Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The East, dir. Zal Batmanglij, wr. Zal Batmanglij, Brit Marling, st. Brit Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page, Patricia Clarkson

Those that caught Batmanglij and Marling's sinewy sci/lo-fi Sound Of My Voice two years ago will be familiar with the intriguing narrational webs they are capable of weaving; The East takes the central premise of Sound Of My Voice - the infiltration of a cult-like collective - and expands it, losing none of the central conceit's fear and hypnotic sense of dread in the process. Marling, again in the dominant role front and center, plays Sarah Moss, an ex-Fed who now freelances for the spooky Sharon (Clarkson) - a CEO of a private intelligence firm that specialises in rooting out Big Business' undesirable oppositional anarchic activists and neutralising the threat. Moss assumes an undercover position with The East, an underground movement who organise and execute a series of 'jams' - eco-terrorist operations that seek to undermine and expose the evil-doing of multinationals. Timely arriving at a point when whistle-blowers' actions lie as exposed as an open sore, ready for inspection and judgment, The East needles, provokes and demands difficult answers that aren't easily forthcoming. Again, as in Voice, Batmanglij and Marling conjure a recognisable world seen through the heady fug of a particularly woozy post-flu perception; everything's a bit off, a little unbalanced, a touch eye-rubbingly hyper-real. From the anonymous and looming headquarters of Sharon's Hiller Brood firm, to the gothically-inclined burned-out wreck of The East leader Benji's (Skarsgård) hideout, there is a level of detail and decoration that is intricately, beautifully unsettling. Roman Vasyanov's cinematography lovingly hugs the shadowy hues of every dumpster lid and freight-train compartment, and Halli Cauthery and Harry Gregson-Williams' score is suitably claustrophobic, but this is, once again, the ever-watchable Marling's vehicle. As one might guess from an actor who casts herself as the first human to visit our Counter-Earth, the deity-like leader of an apocalyptic resistance, and then here as another potential enlightener, Marling isn't one for playing insignificant or inconsequential. Her roles are that of game-changers, revelators, and pivotal unearthers and indeed, she possesses the requisite gravitas and poise to command and persuade in such parts. The East isn't perfect and the last third in particular suffers from a sudden and unwelcome drop in pace, but it's a cracking meditation on boundaries, ethics and social communion that places high demands on its viewers, but richly rewards long after the credits have rolled.