THE EAST directed by Zal Batmanglij, written by Brit Marling and Batmanglij, with Marling, Alexander Skarsgård, Ellen Page and Toby Kebbell. A Fox Searchlight Pictures release. 116 minutes. Some subtitles. Opens Friday (June 7). For venues and times, see listings.
In a well-appointed room at the Shangri-La Hotel, Ellen Page is laying out her credentials for playing an activist.
"I studied permaculture design and eco-village development in Oregon at a place called Lost Valley," she says.
"There were middle-aged women with kids there as well as a 15-year-old who'd dropped out of school and was a really intense freegan who was super-radical and just, like, made me feel like shit," she laughs.
"So I was sort of already familiar with people in these groups. And I think sometimes, like with anything, these ideas can end up being just a little too black-and-white. The world is just a little too grey, you know?"
The grey areas are at the heart of Page's latest movie, The East, a new thriller from Sound Of My Voice creators Brit Marling and Zal Batmanglij. Marling plays a security contractor who infiltrates an activist organization that targets corporate malfeasance. Page is one of the activists, Izzy, who has her own motivations for working with the group.
"A lot of [the film's] ideas were things I was already sort of excited by and had been exposed to," Page says. "It was really about channelling my own anger [at] the world, and a great way to get a lot of that out."
Marling and Batmanglij set out to write a script that was a little more complex than the usual studio fare.
"We tried to be really neutral," says co-writer and actor Marling. "The idea was to present the corporate-capitalist world and then the anarchist-freegan world, and to not say that one or the other is good or bad - that one works and the other doesn't work - but that there are good and bad people in both, and good and bad ideas in both. Which is a reflection of how complicated the time we're living in is."
Page approached The East as a character piece, only to find that it played very differently with festival audiences.
"Obviously, when you shoot a film there's a lot of stillness, and the story's incredibly emotional," she says. "And when I saw the movie, I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is relentlessly suspenseful.' Like, you could feel that in the cinema."
Marling says it was always the intention to make an entertaining thriller that would be fun to watch.
"People's lives are so difficult right now. They want to go to the movies and be entertained," she says. "It's a real bonus if you can go home and be lying in bed still thinking the movie. ‘Gosh, that moment about Izzy!' We tried to make something like that. I don't know if we succeeded."