An intoxicating feeling of dread looms across Queen of Earth that often makes it feel more like a slasher movie than an intimate psychological character drama. Keegan DeWitt's ominous score along with some unsettling and intriguing camera work from Sean Prince Williams help construct this imminent sense of violence which engulfs the film. But the only assault here is between the two besties, their continually acidic exchanges help create an entirely suffocating atmosphere. It's a wonder how they ever became friends in the first place as flashbacks to last summer's venture to the lake house illustrate a mean-spirited competitiveness between the two even then. Both are privileged, self-absorbed narcissists who are prone to needless confrontation and fail each other as friends on pretty much every level. Perry does little to soften these characters as they pry on each other's flaws and he also takes an oblique approach to the narrative which makes for a somewhat emotionally disengaging experience.
All of this doesn't exactly work as much of an advert for Queen of Earth but Perry's stylish direction and a captivating performance from Moss deserve to be seen no matter how alienating the film can be. Catherine's descent into madness is masterfully managed by Moss; her micro-expressions and subtle changes in voice inflection capture her unravelling with inch perfect precision. An unsettlingly controlled tirade directed at Virginia's antagonistic neighbour Rich (Patrick Fugit) is by far the film's stand-out moment - “You are why people betray one another. You are why there is nowhere safe or happy anymore. You are why depression exists.” It's a particularly disquieting instance which Perry heightens by locking on to Catherine, as he does throughout the film. His camera witnesses every detail of her breakdown up-close from her hostile exchanges with Virginia and Rich to her maniac laughter and dazed smiles. Waterston puts in a nuanced if less flashy display as the passive-aggressive queen Virginia but Moss' enthralling, fearless turn is what really resonates.
This may be human behaviour at its most ugly and foul yet it's impossible to not be drawn into Perry's scathing look at middle-class respectability and the disintegration of a friendship. Buoyed by smart direction, arresting cinematography and a career-best performance from Moss this is chamber-piece cinema at its most breathtakingly snide, wince-inducing and distressing.
QUEEN OF EARTH / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: ALEX ROSS PERRY / STARRING: ELIZABETH MOSS, KATHERINE WATERSTON, PATRICK FUGIT, KENTUCKER AUDLEY / RELEASE DATE: JULY 11TH