Catherine (Elizabeth Moss) has make-up smudged across her face. The tears streaming from her eyes have made her mascara run. She's crying because, just a short while after the loss of her father, long-term boyfriend James (Kentucker Audley) is dumping her.
A break is in order, where she can get away from her daily routine and recharge her batteries. Fortunately, it would seem, her annual holiday at friend Virginia's (Katherine Waterston) lake house is imminent.
However. The girls have been pals for decades but, in recent years, they've seen a lot less of each other and their friendship has become more remote as a consequence. When they meet up, their conversation is visibly strained. Upon arriving at the lake house together, it's evident that they no longer have a grasp of what's going on in each other's lives. Catherine in particular finds it difficult to settle in, as everywhere she looks she's reminded of the previous year's holiday there, which James had tagged along to.
The girls attempt to re-bond but friction is evident from the off. Catherine's neuroses are never far from the surface, heightened by her regular flashbacks to happier times. Virginia carries an aura of superiority about her and is rarely the sympathetic friend you'd hope for.
This scenario is intensified when neighbour Rich (Patrick Fugit) starts to get close to Virginia, while openly displaying hostility towards the increasingly erratic Catherine. Though concerned about her friend's behaviour, Virginia can't hope to fully understand the wider implications of Catherine's mounting depression.
Something has to give...
Mental illness and lost friendships are hardly cheery subject matter. Nor are they themes many filmmakers would touch upon without fear of either patronising or wholly misjudging their audience. Fortunately writer-director Alex Ross Perry (LISTEN UP PHILIP) approaches his subjects with subtlety, skill and considerable insight. Catherine's illness builds incrementally, the languid pace and long takes allowing for silent passages which scream despair without ever feeling the need to signpost angst or overplay into melodrama.
With occasions of handheld camera and extremely naturalistic performances, the film can't fail to echo the cinema of Ingmar Bergman and John Cassavetes (in particular, A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE). Moss is exceptional as the lost soul struggling to separate her visions of anguish from reality, fleshing out her character into an entirely believable, three-dimensional being. Waterston's role is more low-key but no less important: she's no goody two shoes, but her heart does shine through on occasion. These are authentic, well-written and delicately realised characters.
Another clear influence is Roman Polanski (specifically REPULSION and perhaps even THE TENANT), as Keegan DeWitt's ominous score bends this drama into psychological thriller territory and considered camera angles bring on the sense of claustrophobia as Catherine's mental walls begin crashing down around her.
Slow-burning and devoid of overt "action", QUEEN OF EARTH is a curious hybrid of personal drama, character study and underlying thriller. It's beautifully shot (on 16mm!) and flawlessly performed. I enjoyed it immensely.
Perry's film comes to the UK in a dual disc blu-ray and DVD combo package, courtesy of Eureka!'s Masters of Cinema brand.
The blu-ray presents the film as an MPEG4-AVC file, in full 1080p HD. Correctly framed in 16x9 (1.85:1) widescreen; the picture is rich with warm colours, accurate flesh tones and stable blacks. Light natural grain is evident throughout, while detail is often remarkable in close-up scenes. An extremely filmic presentation, I thought it looked just great.
English 2.0 audio is highly reliable too, as are the optional subtitles on hand for the hard-of-hearing.
The disc opens to a silent, static main menu page. There is no scene selection on offer; however, the film does come equipped with 9 chapters.
The most substantial bonus feature proffered is an audio commentary track from Perry and Moss, who also acted as the film's co-producer. They go into fine detail about the preparation involved in key scenes and shooting conditions, while offering illuminating reveals on stylistic choices that didn't make the final cut. Perry may have something of a monotonous voice - not as monotonous as Tobe Hooper, don't worry - but his conversing with the lively Moss keeps this track upbeat and interesting.
A 79 second trailer carries a distinctly retro style to it; I liked it, a lot.
7 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage show Perry at work in a good light, as well as showing the shoot to be more light-hearted than expected.
The DVD houses the same content, albeit in standard definition.
A 20-page colour booklet benefits from boasting the superb original American poster artwork for the film on its cover, along with a thorough and well-considered new essay from Jason Wood.
Finally, this release comes with double-sided reversible cover art.
A great film, given a really nice release from those fine folk at Eureka!
Review by Stuart Willis
|Released by Eureka!|
|see main review|