It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Co-written by lead actress Brit Marling and director Zal Batmanglij, "The East" instantly brings to mind the recent Marling-penned indies "Another Earth " (2011), directed by Mike Cahill and "Sound of My Voice" (2012), which Batmanglij directed; like those earlier films, "The East" prizes an initial air of mystery over consistent drama, and as a result ends up squandering its intriguing premise.
Marling plays Jane, a former FBI agent who left the Bureau to work in the private sector. Jane's boss (Patricia Clarkson) assigns her to find and monitor The East, a reclusive anarchist cell whose symbolic stunts have attracted media attention to corporate wrongdoing. After telling her live-in boyfriend that she's been given an assignment in Dubai, Jane bleaches her hair, puts on a hoodie and Birkenstocks, and adopts the cover identity of one "Sarah Moss," an office drone turned train-hopping crust punk.
After a run-in with railroad police exposes her original lead as an undercover Fed, Jane becomes convinced that she's hit a dead end. However, while calling back to report to her employers that the mission has been a bust, Jane spots a compass talisman that suggests that one of her travelling companions knows more about The East than he's letting on. On the spur of the moment, Jane gashes her forearm open with a soda can; the ploy works, and soon she's taken to get stitches at The East's compound, a dilapidated mansion in the woods of Pennsylvania.
There Jane meets the core members of the group: intense, zealot-like Izzie (Ellen Page); good-hearted, mascara-wearing Luca (Shiloh Fernandez); team medic Doc (Toby Kebbell); deaf, friendly Eve (Hillary Baack); den mother and expert hacker Tess (Danielle Macdonald); and their charismatic de facto leader, Benji (Alexander Skarsgård). After a member of the team abruptly leaves, new arrival Jane is roped into their latest "jam" — a plot to exact revenge on a pharmaceutical company.