The East is a bit of a voyeuristic experience. For a film like this to work, it needs to really embed itself in a way that makes the viewers realize something about themselves they may not have known before, or perhaps have been repressing. This movie fails to even acknowledge a thumbnail of self awareness. It’s too ridiculous to be taken seriously. It’s just failed attempt after failed attempt.
Brit Marling stars as someone who infiltrates a movement called The East, which has little more to do with Alexander Skarsgård (not quite as capable when he’s not playing a vampire) than it does with the political themes it actually addresses. The film’s obvious social ambitions would be perhaps better served by a storyline that doesn’t play like a heist movie. The film is divided into three parts, three different sections and causes the group is targeting, all of which are uninteresting. We’re supposed to side with this movement as they drug champagne, resulting in the crippling of individuals. But it’s all too hippy, too obvious.
The film works on no level. As a thriller it’s pedantic and slow. As a cultural morality piece that aims to be a reflection of our current society, it’s childish and actually out of of touch. In one particular sequence that will be laughed at for how bad it is for years to come, Ellen Page’s character forces a woman to strip nude and bathe herself into a river in which toxic waste is being slugged. I was reminded of the rap scene in Teen Witch. It results in cops being called and a chase scene of sorts in which Page is shot. The East thinks this is an effective way of getting their point across, but it’s really a sloppy exaggerated mess.
The East presents no moral dilemma to the viewer, only to Marling’s character who realizes she may want to belong with the very group she’s infiltrating. The problem is, this group is a fringe cult. They make real cults look bad. They live by the seat of their pants and have no real purpose for doing anything other than revenge. Their focus us unclear and disorganized. By the time Patricia Clarkson shows up as a beacon of a light in an otherwise abysmal film, all is most certainly lost.