Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling made huge names for themselves at Sundance a couple years back with the release of his low budget sci-fi thriller Sound of My Voice. I loved the film, and while it got a small release by Fox Searchlight, not many people saw it in theaters (the horrible title probably didn’t help). It definitely wasn’t a movie for everyone — the story followed a couple who infiltrates a cult run by a leader who claims to be a time traveler from the future, and the execution played on the many mysteries in the same way the television show Lost did, sometimes not offering answers. But underneath it all was a very clever concept and some really good storytelling. Searchlight and Ridley Scott apparently recognized this enough to give them a budget dozens of times larger than their debut.

The East shares some ideas with Sound of My Voice, following someone who goes undercover to infiltrate a cult-like organization. The ever likeable Brit Marling plays Sarah, a new-hire agent for a Washington DC private security film who is tasked to infiltrate an anarchist group calling themselves “The East” (think Project Mayhem from David Fincher’s Fight Club). The film opens on the mansion of the head of a huge oil company which recently spilled gas in the Atlantic, killing a ton of wildlife and polluting the Earth’s waters. The East breaks in and creates their own oil spill all over his home, releasing a video online and making headline news around the world.

This movie looks fantastic, but the screenplay by Brit and Zal is what impressed me the most. Almost every scene involves a twist which furthers the plot into a new direction. Exposition and set-up is accomplished cleverly with visuals, when other movies would have done so in dialogue. The tension builds to a point where you’ll be holding your breath on the edge of your seat. I also loved the inclusion of a deaf character, which results in a really cool moment told through sign language.

If I have any complaint, its that in a quest to keep their missions personal The East encounters a job which turns into a scene I would expect more from a big Hollywood movie than a smart indie. Its nothing too groan-worthy, it just feels a bit out of place compared to the rest of the film. The Ridley Scott influence is felt in the screenplay and in the style, most notably the end credits sequence.

While The East skews more conventional and mainstream than most Sundance films, its rare that we get a tense thriller that provides some deeper interesting topical discussion.

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10

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About the Author

Peter Sciretta is a film geek and popcultured fanboy living in Los Angeles. He created /Film in 2005.

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