“The East” succeeds as a down-to-earth thriller

Courtesy of Scott Free Productions

Alexander Skarsgård and Ellen Page might find it rather challenging to attend any Hollywood party after the public sees “The East.” Their characters are a part of the titular cult that redefines torture after performing an act of ecoterrorism on a party of rich individuals.

And that is just the first of the three acts of violence, or, as the cult calls them, “jams,” that are performed to spread the message about the corruption of large corporations that pollute the environment.

But agent Sarah Moss (Brit Marling) plans to infiltrate the East and stop their violence. She becomes a mole, obtaining crucial information to expose this secret group by sending information back to her boss (Patricia Clarkson).

This anarchist collective consists of the enigmatic leader named Benji (Skarsgård), a Brown University dropout named Izzy (Page), an unorthodox doctor (Toby Kebbell) and a variety of other odd characters. They gather food from garbage, feel the insides of a deer corpse and dress in straitjackets to bond.

But after a while, you realize that this group is more than a group of modern-day hippies. Maybe there is some truth in their cause. But will the eye-for-an-eye philosophy work, or only cause more chaos? That moral play, though not vastly different from most other films of this ilk, is precisely formulated thanks to Marling’s performance and apt direction by Zal Batmanglij.

Marling and Batmanglij wrote the script together, and the two have crafted a thriller that is not too slow, but not too high-octane that would render it bombastic. While you will be thinking about the film’s moralistic undertones, you will also be entertained and slightly disturbed by Moss as she unravels the inner depths of the East’s motives.

Unfortunately, the film suffers from something many thrillers tend to have — a weak third act. Marling and Batmanglij have written such a tight thriller for the first two-thirds that the final unnecessary twist feels messy in comparison.

But despite these complaints, “The East” is a treat for individuals tired of summer blockbusters. Among the high-octane thrillers that move quick enough to cover their plot holes, “The East’s” distributor, Fox Searchlight, is brave in releasing a film that steers away from that archetype. “The East” is briskly paced, intelligently written and realistically frightening.

Zack Grullon is a staff writer. Email him at film@nyunews.com.

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