Queen of the Earth begins with an ending: Catherine (Elisabeth Moss), shot in tight close-up, her face tear-streaked, is in the final throes of a breakup. The scene shifts and now she is en route to a lake house, along with her best friend, Virginia (Katherine Waterson), to recuperate. But in Alex Ross Perry’s spare melodrama, the week in the country exposes the rifts in the women’s friendship, and finds Catherine spiraling into a breakdown.
Or so it seems. The enigmatic film has a loose narrative, marked by flashbacks to last summer at the lake and lengthy monologues. Viewers will work to pick out threads, and even to sort out what might be delusion. The two summers are mirror images: In one, Virginia nurses a breakup, and is neglected by Catherine; now the roles are reversed. Both women enjoy material and social privilege, but seem incapable of looking after each other, or themselves, when life zigs rather than zags.
Perry (Listen Up, Philip) shoots in a tense but ethereal style, employing close-ups, silence and sun-lit moodiness. The film recalls earlier arthouse works such as Persona, Interiors and Three Women and, like those films, demands a patient viewer.