Queen of Earth presents us with a unique psychological drama from the point of view of two troubled friends. Cristina Diaconu takes a closer look…
Queen of Earth looks like a horror but it lacks the serial killer next door and the gory parts. The horror in this film is not visible, it doesn’t take the shape of a supernatural creature; it explores the insides of a fragile mind, which is the scariest place to be living in.
Catherine (Elisabeth Moss) is an emotionally vulnerable woman who just lost her dad and her boyfriend (who is breaking up with her in the first scene of the film). The emotional distress caused by these two events will become the focus of the story. When everyone seems to be abandoning her she tries to find comfort in the only person left that she cares about – Virginia (Katherine Waterston). They go together to her parents’ house to spend some time relaxing and comforting each other. However, their friendship is not what we would usually imagine one to be; they tease each other with mean comments and criticise their life choices.
The story is told through the flashbacks of a similar trip that took place the year before. The roles back then were reversed and Virginia was the one going through a rough path and instead of being there for her, Catherine invited her boyfriend, James (Kentucker Audley), to join them. Throughout the film we get to understand that Virginia is now punishing her friend for what she did in their last trip, inviting Rich (Patrick Fugit), their neighbour, to spend time with her in the detriment of Catherine.
The style seems to be setting the scene for a 1970s horror film – two girls alone in a lake house in the woods with a creepy neighbour who keeps popping up in their house. The story is presented per days, but nothing seems to be changing except for the tension between the characters and Catherine’s mental degradation. Each day she seems to be falling into madness deeper and deeper, reaching high points in a few scenes. “I could murder you right now and no one will ever know” is what Catherine says smilingly to a man she found passed out in the woods.
Although it is never really mentioned or discussed, mental health is the main theme Queen of Earth explores. We find out that depression is what killed Catherine’s father and after that loss and the failure of finding a way to relax during the trip, she starts falling into it as well. The film hints in that direction with her insomnia, lack of appetite, anxiety, paranoia, and actual physical pain. There is also constantly a feeling of “something bad is going to happen” activated by the music specific to horror films. The tension that is built throughout never finds a moment to release itself; it just keeps building up more and more.
This is not a film for those who enjoy a lot of action. Nothing really happens. The focus is on internal conflicts. Even during the few times when Virginia and Catherine talk to each other, their words seem to be fading away because the camera looks into their reactions more than on the dialogue itself. This is also the reason why the film is shot mostly in close ups that try to give us an insight into the emotional state and the personality of the characters.