I went into Queen of the Earth with so much good will. The premise sounds like it has a great deal of potential - a woman's (Elizabeth Moss) father dies and she goes to try and get away from everything in the wake of this and breaking up with her boyfriend to a cabin by a lake that her best friend (Katharine Waterston) has, and from there she starts to lose her mind. I hadn't seen The Color Wheel or Listen up Phillip, the previous Alex Ross Perry films, but I am an admirer of Elizabeth Moss (just last year she was in a little seen but awesome indie movie, The One I Love), and I thought she could pull off a deep and interesting character. The trouble is, the resulting film Queen of the Earth isn't deep or interesting, though it would very much like to be and pretends to be.
It paigns me to rag on a film that is trying to be ambitious in the psychological/interior sense. It's not that the world lacks independent film dramas dealing with loss and mental instability, but it's always good to have well made ones that let the audience in to the character's pain and, perhaps, see that person grow. But the core problem with the movie is that it doesn't give enough context for the main character's misery. In a sense the format reminded me of Lars von Trier's Antichrist, only without the hilarious fox or over-the-top antics involving castration: someone loses a loved one, they go off to the middle of the woods with a close friend, and then the bile spews out. And Queen of the Earth is nothing but an experience where characters are loaded with bile to one another scene after scene.
Of course a story dealing with grief and loss and mental fractions should be taking itself seriously, of course... but maybe it should also allow a tone that doesn't hit the same ugly sensations. Even in the flashbacks Moss and Waterston's characters are sniping at one another in passive-aggressive or just aggressive ways, and even the (very) few semi-happy moments are tinged with the flavor of dread. After an opening shot where we see Moss crying and in hysterics - and to be fair, it's an amazingly acted and shot scene - it never really loses that tone, and yet we also never get a sense of WHERE and WHO this character was at before all of this; it's all told to us (that she had a father who was reviled, that she is reviled as a "spoiled brat", that she should get over herself, her art, etc).
Part of the approach may be due to the low-budget - Perry didn't quite get started with the 'mumblecore' filmmakers, but he's in the same ballpark - and yet there's little actual creativity, or any sense of empathy that the audience can have in the writing, at least from my perspective. Part of the problem too is due to the style, where Perry gets composer Keegan DeWitt to hit the same ominous, horror-movie notes, and it's draining. In scene after scene it's as though we are locked in with one woman, Catherine, who is a head-case and is becoming undone further and further along (the same tone is basically, 'why can't they leave me alone') and she is not that interesting as a miserable character, and Virginia is even worse. There's no arc with either of these people, no sense of growth whether it's up or down (well, I guess Catherine DOES get worse, but you know what I mean, the trajectory is muddled and shallow); that may be part of the point, but it doesn't work in this case.
I can see why the film was made, to bring a full atmospheric experience through eerie-grainy 16mm cinematography, and to highlight how, well I guess, society people are people too. But aside from Moss's performance, as she really is trying and going for this full- throttle (she produced too), Queen of the Earth comes off as a miserable, empty time.