If The East marks your first brush with Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij, you may be a little entranced. The concept of infiltrating a secret society and witnessing the members’ unusual rituals admittedly holds a particular appeal, as do the complex internal struggles of a protagonist falling for a group he or she intended to destroy. For those who saw the filmmakers’ The Sound of My Voice last year, however, the above descriptors are all too familiar. Essentially a plug-and-play from the same template with the titular eco-terrorists filling in for disciples of a time-traveling sage, this stale follow-up is mere deja vu, its known entities offering minimal value to the initiated and superficial thrills for the rest.
In line with her body of work, Marling again has a negative onscreen presence, her lack of charisma creating a void that serves as an unfortunate lead for her costars. Tasked with taking down the anarchist East, her Sarah encounters equally wispy characters in her intelligence boss (Patricia Clarkson), the collective’s dull leader (Alexander Skarsgård), and its stock renegades like rich-girl-gone-mad Izzy (Ellen Page). Recycling the high-security recruitment and group dynamics of The Sound of My Voice, there’s nothing quite as ridiculous as that film’s circle puke sequence, though ceremonies in the round and both the ingestion and regurgitation of sensitive objects play a key role. As with their first film, Marling and Batmanglij bank heavily on the taboo intrigue of these scenes, and fortified by a preachy anti-corporation message that’s more at home in a documentary, the result is even more flat the second time around.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, violence, some disturbing images, sexual content and partial nudity.
The East is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.