Sundance '13: Brit Marling & Zal Batmanglij's 'The East' is a Thrill

January 23, 2013

The East Review

When it comes to modern thrillers, the tone, pacing and production values of the film are as important as the characters and story. At least for me. The second feature from up-and-coming director Zal Batmanglij, of Sound of My Voice from 2011, premiered at Sundance this year. Titled The East, it's an eco-terrorist thriller about a rogue collective that plans and orchestrates attacks against the corporations destroying the environment of this beautiful world. I wasn't particular a big fan of Sound of my Voice, but was surprised and thoroughly rocked to the core by The East, a vast improvement for Zal and outstanding film of its own.

Despite easy-to-make cult comparisons to Sound of My Voice, Zal's The East is nothing like that film and doesn't have any similarities at all. The East is a much more thrilling tale of corporate greed and destruction focused on a collective of young, idealistic individuals trying to make a difference. We follow Brit Marling, playing an operative for an elite private intelligence firm, assigned to infiltrate this collective/group/cult and stop them, but of course, she gets in too deep once she becomes friends with its members. But there are a few good twists and it's the kind of plot that keeps you wondering what the heck is going to happen next.

There's not much I can criticize about The East, except for a few minor comical details like the overuse of the word "jam" (there's an unintentionally funny moment where the back and forth dialogue ends with "it's our jam!"). The direction in particular is astounding, Zal certainly knows what he's doing with his cast, but also with the story, with the film itself and every twist and turn and plot point that keeps the momentum going. It begins and never lets up, an exquisitely crafted mystery that kept me tense throughout. It ends solidly, but leaves more for us to consider as the credits roll, another testament to Zal's grasp on this story.

Beyond the direction and consistent thrills it provides, the cast is something to behold. Zal has lined up one of my favorite groups of up-and-comers in a while: Toby Kebbell (seen in RocknRolla, Prince of Persia), Alexander SkarsgÄrd (seen in Melancholia, Battleship, Straw Dogs), Shiloh Fernandez (seen in Deadgirl, Skateland), Julia Ormond and Aldis Hodge (seen on "Leverage"). Each plays an important role in the bigger picture and brings a fervent spirit to their character. Brit Marling takes the story by its reigns and gives a commanding lead performance, better than I've seen her before, including in Zal's Sound of My Voice. All of them together with Ellen Page and Patricia Clarkson make the film as strong as it is.

In all honesty, I wasn't expecting to like this much at first, but was ecstatic to discover a fantastic thriller that I'm looking forward to revisiting. As only the second film by Zal Batmanglij, it's an impressive step up.

Alex's Sundance Rating: 8 out of 10

Find more posts: Review, Sundance 13



Huh they must have worked on the script. Read it a year ago and was bored. Interested again.

ff on Jan 23, 2013


So glad to hear this film delivers. The trailer was awesome and so was Sound of My Voice (one of my top 10 favs from 2012). Can't wait to check this out later this in waaay later. Really enjoying the Sundance coverage btw! You lucky dog Alex:P

RidgeRacer4 on Jan 24, 2013


Brit Marling will become a mega-star someday. That is, if she wants it to be. I've only seen her in Another Earth but it was immediately clear to me that, as an actress, she had it all, beauty, talent and intelligence.

retrogaming on Jan 25, 2013


Check out Sound of My Voice asap, Marling is a hypnotic powerhouse and I agree, on track to become a mega-star.

RidgeRacer4 on Jan 25, 2013


The reality is: 1. There is an antibiotic causing the exact symptoms portrayed in the film, they are called Fluoroquinolones. 2. If you listen to the news caster in the movie you will hear the name Fluoroquinolones, and how it was used during the Gulf War to vaccinate our troops against Anthrax - the "Gulf War Syndrome" the soldiers suffer from is actually the adverse reactions to the Fluoroquinolone vaccination used, Cipro. 3. Bayer, along with Johnson & Johnson, and the FDA, are all fully aware of how thousands of people have been stricken by the serious adverse reactions to Fluoroquinolones. The three most common prescribed are Avelox, Cipro, and Levaquin - but even with the profits in the billions from the sale of these medications, not one dime has been spent by any of them to research why is it happening, how to reverse, or repair the damage it has caused to the thousands of patients who trusted that the medication they were taking was safe. It's obvious to those who suffer from Fluoroquinolone Toxicity Syndrome that the makers of this film did their research prior to making the film, and were spot on in their portrayal of the symptoms of the adverse effects of this antibiotic. This is a classic "Truth is stranger than Fiction" when it come to Fluoroquinolones. The pharmaceutical companies want the world to believe these reactions are rare, when they are not. It has been estimated that 1 out of 10 people will have some type of reaction to these antibiotics ranging from mild to severe. The pharmaceutical companies are willing to let the "few" suffer for the "greater good." Most people know and understand the risk of tendon damage and rupture from Fluoroquinolones, because the pharmaceutical companies were forced to place a warning on the antibiotics - FORCED being the operative word here. They are NOT going to acknowledge any other reaction they are not forced to do. The scariest part of the whole movie - what does it tell you when Hollywood "gets it" before the FDA does?

Gail on Jun 25, 2013

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