Stylistically sound, but underneath the layers of neat nostalgia, there's not really enough substance here to get excited about.
After dividing audiences with last year’s ode to the creative mindset Listen Up Philip, nostalgic obsessor Alex Ross Perry returns with his latest effort, having shifted tones and traded Allen for Polanski in terms of his inspirations.
Queen of Earth charts the psychological struggles of Catherine (Elizabeth Moss), an emotionally volatile artist left shaken by the death of her father and the collapse of her hyper-dependent relationship. To escape her constant misery, Catherine hides herself away in the American wilderness at the lake house of her estranged best friend Virginia (Katherine Waterston), where she hopes to re-engage with her artwork, only to instead suffer an incredibly gradual and disabling mental breakdown.
Perry’s films have never attracted large audiences; that’s never really been their aim. Instead he chooses to unravel his stories in a more unusual but detailed way – through character progression. As he did with the aforementioned Listen Up Philip, Perry puts his characters in charge here, and for the most part this leads to some insanely rich and personal moments. Helped along by a terrific central performance by Moss, Catherine’s struggles feel very real and multi-layered; she is far from your garden-variety crazy person, and as the narrative leaps in and out of her psychosis, you really begin to get a hold on what makes her tick.
It’s such a shame then that, other than this extraordinarily deep characterisation, Queen of Earth doesn’t really go anywhere. Character studies have plenty of room to work in their own right, but only when there’s enough inciting story events to keep things ticking along, and sadly, other than a few underspent supporting characters, Moss doesn’t really have an awful lot to interact with here. After a strong opening, Perry needs more (or, y’know, at least some) narrative movement to maintain interest and he pretty much ignores this in favour of devoting all his time to forwarding Catherine’s psychotic episodes, leading to a film with great emotive depth, but really very little else.
Stylistically things are a bit more on point however, with Perry’s nostalgic stamp echoing through once more and lending an ever-so-slightly eerie tone to the proceedings. Whereas in the past he may have focussed a little more on humour, Queen of Earth is much darker in its handling of things, adopting more of a thriller-friendly outlook that, although expertly executed, ultimately ends up leaving Perry with mismatched expectations. The lingering dread left behind by some of these style choices never really builds to anything significant or defining and as a result, the film’s climax gradually fades out into nothing, despite possibly hinting at a darker moral earlier on.
The individual parts to Perry’s latest effort are certainly well-strung and provide plenty of promise, but when blended together they don’t quite compliment each other as much as they need to in order for Queen of Earth to really work. There’s some neat performances, and Moss is a definite standout, but a supreme lack of substance really lets Perry down here, most likely making him even more divisive than before. In fact, maybe that was his intention all along.
Queen of Earth (2015), directed by Alex Ross Perry, is being shown as part of the 2015 BFI London Film Festival. Further information about the film including screening times and ticket information can be found here.