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Thursday, June 25, 2015

BAMcinémaFest 2015 Review: QUEEN OF EARTH

Courtesy of IFC Films
BAMcinémaFest Review
2015, 90 minutes
Not Rated

Review by Joshua Handler

Queen of Earth will be screening once again at BAMcinémaFest on June 28 before releasing theatrically on August 26.

Viewing Alex Ross Perry's Queen of Earth, I couldn't help but wonder whether what I was watching was supposed to be a comedy or a drama. Perry has one of the most unique voices of any American director working today, and his films are frequently so acidic that they blur the line between dark drama and dark comedy. Queen of Earth is no exception. While it was difficult to discern whether the film is a comedy or not at first, it reveals itself to be one in a scene so verbally brutal and long that it's impossible not to laugh. This kind of scene is a trademark of Perry's (his last film, Listen Up Phillip, opened with one of these acidic verbal takedowns - and that was the lightest part of the film). At its best, Perry's dialogue is sharp, intelligent, knowingly pretentious, and stings like salt on a wound, and Queen of Earth's last portion is a showcase for that. 

It would have been beneficial to see Queen of Earth again before reviewing because knowing how it climaxes and ends would help to decipher the cryptic first hour. There's no doubt that the filmmaking on display is top-notch, though. Sean Price Williams' typically stunning, highly atmospheric 16mm cinematography evokes psychodramas of the '60s and '70s. His use of dramatic dim light and long, slow zooms create an atmosphere of dread. The centerpiece shot of the film is showy while still subtle and one of a few moments of pure cinematic brilliance in the film. 

Katherine Waterson and Elizabeth Moss are quite strong. Perry brings out the best in Moss, as her work in Listen Up Phillip and now Queen of Earth is among her most impressive to date. Moss seems to relish every nasty line Perry gives to her and brings out the emotions vividly. Waterson is quickly proving herself to be one of the most exciting actresses around. Her work here is subtly moving, and she has a magnetic screen presence that makes watching her a pleasure. 

Overall, Queen of Earth is a confounding watch that's worthwhile mostly for fans of Perry's work and for fans of '60s and '70s European psychodramas. The acting and craft here are superb and Robert Greene's untraditional editing builds atmosphere beautifully. Queen of Earth, as mentioned, will likely benefit from a second viewing. After only one viewing, I haven't cracked it, but it's impossible to get out of my head. 


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