The East (2013)
Deftly paced, emotionally gripping, and psychologically advancing. “The East” is a socio-political thriller that never mistakes revenge for a lack of heart. Piling on the tension to an almost unbearable extent and performed with graceful precision and a relentless thirst for justice. Co-writers Brit Marling and Zat Batmanglij have once again created a taut character-study oozing with conscientious-awareness and founded upon eco-friendly tendencies. While parts of “The East” may feel somewhat like a retread of the duo’s previous effort “The Sound of my Voice,” any correlation between the two is soon disparaged. Yes, it may deal with similar themes such as infiltration, self-realization, and influence. Nonetheless, ”The East” is Marling and Batmanglij’s most complete offering to date and sees their potential continue its rise to an even brighter future.
Sarah moss (Marling), a former FBI agent, is a high-level operative for the private intelligence firm Hiller-Brood. She is commissioned to infiltrate a terrorist organization called The East and report back with the groups next targets. Upon gaining the trust of the charismatic leader Benji (Skarsgard) and next in command Izzy (Page), Sarah begins to unveil intel to her boss. As time passes, Sarah becomes infatuated with the group’s members and ideals.
The first few moments of “The East” strike a strong note of consciousness that resonates throughout the entire film and never disperses or weakens. It is followed with wave upon wave of allegory that inflicts an ocean of inward assessment regarding environmental duty and industrial intoxication. It may leave a bitter taste with its blatancy, unorthodox approach, and alarming nature. Nevertheless, it is a controversial wake-up call that is extremely difficult to look away from. Ultimately, “The East” isn’t easily dismissed upon completion. It acts much like a splinter, stinging and constantly drawing your attention and ire until it is dealt with. I’m not implying that it will force you to drop sanity and necessity to go and save the world. Yet, it will enlighten your point of view and illuminate these troubling matters at hand so one day we can make better, more informed decisions about the planet, and more importantly, our future.
Amongst these immense matters, it would be easy to lose sight of the human element. After all, the safety of our environment directly affects our longevity and its security. It might seem a bit selfish, but the concern about our habitat is based in majority on our dominance of this planet. Amazingly, Marling and Batmanglij have managed to bottle these enormously important topics and infused them with our heart and soul. What good would the preservation of Earth be if we weren’t around to enjoy it? While we are treated to an abundance of vantage points, each one is unique and connects with different people on vastly different levels. Which, evidently makes “The East” an outstanding experience for all involved, cast, crew, and audience.
Perhaps the most beautiful thing about “The East” is its dissection of every facet that compiles our existence. It doesn’t solely focus on saving and bettering our planet. It tackles industry, poverty, indifference, humanity, etc… Everything is entangled and attached in this metaphorical web and each aspect is torn down until its roots are bare. There are a lot of wrongs that need to be righted in our current state and awareness is a huge step that seemingly the majority of us are afraid or unwilling to take. I’m not trying to preach as I am just as clueless and motionless as the next when it comes to eco-preservation. It is simply gratifying to know that some are taking the initiative to better our world. It might sound cliche or corny, nonetheless, it is something that needs to be dealt with in order to fortify our existence and evolution.
I think that is enough of a disembowelment towards our humanity, existence, and the film itself in general. I’ll move on to the technical aspects of the film and its performances. “The East” stars the aforementioned Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgard, and Ellen Page. The biggest surprise, well, at least for me anyway, was Alexander Skarsgard’s performance, he easily dominated the entire film. Page and Marling were also incredibly impressive, but not on the same scale. Possibly because I expected them to be terrific and I had no idea what to expect from Skarsgard. Considering the significance of the film, overshadowing the star-power was a concern entering the theatre. However, this turned out to be a wasted worry as the cast, in its entirety, matched the story’s intensity, subtlety, and brilliance. As for Zat Batmanglij, he continues to perfect his craft as “The East” holds, without question his best work from behind the camera.
Tremendously acted, superbly filmed, and just impeccably solid all the way through. “The East” is an immaculate depiction of our society, its flaws, and how we can ultimately correct them.
The East: 8.5 out of 10.
Sound of My Voice (2011)
Despite an ending that leaves a bit too much for the imagination to chew on. “Sound of My Voice” is an entrancing thriller with a pair of phenomenal performances from its two leads. Rising above its restricted budget with hauntingly beautiful content and an unsettling hypnotic effect. What is most disturbingly scary about “Sound of my Voice” is the impending vulnerability that is near impossible to resist. As the story progresses, we are forced to abandon this initial feeling of invincibility until it completely trails off into unfamiliarity. Ultimately, we are forced to accept that there are things that we do not know, that we don’t have an answer for. It’s a bittersweet, tingling experience. While the thrilling factor does tail off slightly. It is efficiently replaced with an undistinguishable yearning for answers to the unknown.
Peter (Denham) is a substitue teacher living in Los Angeles with his girlfriend Lorna (Vicius). The two are embarking on their first undercover journalism project. The target is a small cult run by the mysterious and beautifully striking Maggie (Marling). After Peter and Lorna finish the long and excruciating initiation tests, the cult deems them ready to finally meet Maggie. Upon stripping, showering, changing clothes, and being blindfolded. Peter and Lorna are taken in a van with other new recruits to an undisclosed location. Upon completing the final test, which is a secret handshake, Peter and Lorna come face to face with Maggie. She claims to have woken up naked, in a bathtub, with no memories or knowledge of who she is. Eventually regaining her strength and some mental imagery, Maggie concludes she is a time-traveler from the year 2054.
Directed and co-written by Zal Batmanglij. Who appears to have finally broken through after his directorial debut, The Recordist, was slightly subpar. Now, he has arguably one of the most anticipated films of 2013 in “The East” and seems well on his way to making a name for himself. The same can be said for the radiant and mesmerizing Brit Marling. Who not only stars in the film, but co-wrote it as well. Marling is that rare breed of beauty, brains, and brawn and is slowly emerging as one of the top actresses in the business. Marling, best known for her multi-faceted role in “Another Earth,” is garnering more attention from high-profile gigs. After starring alongside Robert Redford and Shia LaBeouf in the recently released, “The Company You Keep.” Marling is set to co-star Batmanglij’s “The East” with Ellen Page and Alexander Skarsgard.
Apart from a jittery, premature, seemingly non-existent final act. “Sound of my Voice” almost plays its indie, low budget characteristics perfectly. Nevertheless, by the time the climax roles around, it’s exceedingly hard to stay mad at Batmanglij and Marling. In the end, these tiny inconsistencies are translucent and easily forgiven. One thing that Marling and company know definitively is that there is a vast difference between seductive and sedating. Which is why they’re able to exploit these exceptional traits. Using them to lure the viewer in and then begin lulling us into a state of defencelessness. Concluding in the audiences inability to conjure up individualistic thoughts and ideals, effectively simulating the main objective of a cult. “Sound of my Voice” and its creators not only know what they’re doing, but are able to do it astoundingly well.
Besides Marling, the cast features Christopher Denham, who is absolutely skyrocketing and the diverse Nicole Vicius. Without question, Marling gives the most illuminated performance as a devious and immaculate cult leader from the future. Her voice carries a depth filled with harmony and pleasure, and for such a transience thing, it has remarkable ambience. Nearly matching Marling’s exquisite portrayal is Denham. His pretentiousness and anger, however misinformed, is totally believable. Heading under cover to infiltrate a dangerous cult. Denham delivers the steady-handed, emotionally vacant goods. Lost in the charisma of Marling and Denham’s performances is Vicius, who does a terrific job in her supporting role. Without her as somewhat of a foundation, the film would helplessly falter.
Unbearably tense and at times vividly horrific. “Sound of My Voice” is an outstanding thriller filled with resonating performances from the entire cast.
Sound of My Voice: 8 out of 10.