Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) is in a troubled place. Left by her boyfriend a few months after her revered artist father committed suicide, she looks for solace in her old friend Ginny (Katherine Waterston) and a lakeside retreat. Bad choice. Catherine is with the last person who can help her come to terms with the tragedies that have come her way, while arguably, Ginny has no good reason to offer help in the first place.
I knew almost nothing about this film before seeing it, only that it was a low-budget drama led by two women, pretty much putting it in my wheelhouse. Another Martha Marcy May Marlene, maybe? I was excited!
Queen of Earth switches its timeframe between Catherine and Ginny’s present break in the cottage and their equivalent stay the year before. It shows how their actions on the first holiday have had consequences for the second and Waterson and Moss both put in thoughtful performances of two friends who really shouldn’t be any more.
Everything about the film is designed to maximise your discomfort. From too-close shots of people’s faces that make you want to physically lean away from them, to the suspenseful music that never once lets up. By the end of the film I was exhausted from being bullied into feeling tense for the whole 90 minutes. Despite the score’s hard work though, I was frequently bored.
Long monologues – expositional turnings over of past, personality-shaping relationships – can easily be imagined in the context of a conversation with real-life friends who are trying to analyse how they got to where they are now. However, they’re just tedious when you are the spectator of characters who you don’t even like. Without exception, I grew to loathe everyone on screen, as the behaviour of both main and supporting characters pushed the believable boundaries of what a person would be willing to put up with from their ‘friends’, let alone strangers. Despite the strength of the lead actors, the script failed to convince me that Catherine and Ginny were ever friends in the first place and so I had nothing on which to hang my belief that they’d be willing to endure each other’s unpleasantness now. It was also surprising how, for a film that almost never leaves these two women, it struggled to pass the Bechdel Test.
It isn’t hard to imagine this as a very different review. A parallel-universe me could be praising Queen of Earth for its suspense, dark reading of interpersonal relationships and insightful portrayal of depression. Sadly, in this universe Queen of Earth left me frustrated and worn-out, and no amount of admiring the craft can mitigate that.
There is an interesting film to be made about growing away from your old friendships but not breaking the bond. I don’t think this is it.