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The East


‘…The East is a minor gem as far as subversive, intelligent thrillers go…’

One of the most effective thrillers on the Scott Free imprint, Zal Batmanglij’s The East didn’t find much favour with audiences; that’s not entirely surprising given that it doesn’t toe a firm political line. Batmanglij and star Brit Marling had already made some wild low-budget indie flicks (Another Earth, The Sound of Her Voice) before this, and The East was intended to bring their arty sci-fi feel to a modern, mainstream audience. That didn’t quite happen here, but that’s not to say that The East isn’t worth seeking out; it’s buried somewhere in Disney+’s thriller section…

Jane (Marling) woks for a private intelligence agency, going deep, deep undercover to find evidence on anti-social miscreants, with Patricia Clarkson as her boss Sharon. Jane is good at her job, possibly too good; when she infiltrates anarchist collective The East, she ends up in a relationship with Benji (Alexander Skarsgård), the charismatic leader of a cult-like organisation that lives off the grid in a huge mansion that may or may not belong to Benji’s family. But Benji and The East have got plans to expose the hypocrisy of our society, and with communication with bosses problematic, Jane finds herself going along for the ride as The East starts administering poetic justice…

The East has a couple of truly dynamic scenes to play with from the get-go. Jane’s introduction to Benji’s commune, complete with straitjackets and obscure-seeming tasks, has a great punch-line when she realises that she can only feed herself if she helps to feed the other constrained members; selfish thinking won’t work here. Even better, The East collective then break into a uber-posho marquee function held by a family who have enriched themselves as part of the Big Pharma bun-fight; without testing the chemicals that the family are flogging, The East quietly add them to the party champagne, and if the hosts are honest, no harm will be done…

Unfortunately, The East’s other shenanigans are far less ambivalent in purpose and are more straightforward vigilante stuff, and while the script withholds information about Benji’s intentions until the final scene, the final note is furtive and unrewarding. But if the answer is unsatisfying, The East is asking a big question; what is the difference between corporate and individual morality? Elliot Page and Toby Kebbell provide intense support as key members of The East, and tension is maintained throughout. Marling and Batmanglij went on to surf the Netflix wave with The OA, only to hit the rocks when the second season was cancelled, and we don’t hear enough about them these days. But The East is a minor gem as far as subversive, intelligent thrillers go; it’s got a fresh take on modern corruption, and should have been more widely seen and enjoyed than it was back in the carefree days of 2013.


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  1. I’ve been dipping into YouTube a bit so will have a look for this. One of the barmy things these days is accessibility. So many movies released on different streaming channels. Hey guys, stick your work into the cinema, accessible to all.

    • This one is 10 years old, but wasn’t widely seen in the UK. DVD second hand for a coupke of quid…

    • Are you not persona non grata at the library? That missing Tinto Brass boxed set was finally found stuffed in the air conditioner in the back, and you were the last one who rented it…

      • I’m a staff favourite at the library. They all know my name. Have you been allowed inside your new library yet, or are you still just stuck taking quick snaps as you drive by at night?

          • I see. So . . . they’re still not letting you in. I’m torn. I think it’s nice for the underprivileged to have a warm, well-lit place where they can maybe get a mug of soup and a cheese sandwich, but should a library double as a homeless shelter? Is there no other place you can go where you can feel safe?

            • Oddly enough, Guelph public library have been raising similar questions about members just sitting posting Candy Crush and drinking Kestrel super lager in the reading area. Mumbling about sci-fi and women, apparently. What can be done?

                • Sigh. They don’t feel the same way. They feel they have nothing to learn from a man who lives in a bin-bag suit and eats rotisserie chicken in the toilet.

                  • We have our picnics in the main reading area. They just don’t want us to get any dipping sauce on the rare books. What all rare books do you have in your collection? The 50 Shades trilogy? The Prince Harry memoir? Movie tie-in editions of The Da Vinci Code? You need to post some pics.

                • Sigh. On the secret forum, I have published a library pic showing the expansive range of literature currently on offer.

                  I trust this puts any negativity to bed.

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