There’s so much to love about the underappreciated, female-driven “Assassination Nation” — especially if you’re a fan of smart, socially aware horror.
If everyone’s phones, tablets, computers, and laptops were hacked and all pictures, videos, texts, and search histories were leaked for all to see, true chaos and rage would erupt in the streets. Families would be torn apart, friendships broken, trust would be eliminated, paranoia would rise, and revenge would be sought. This is what Assassination Nation so boldly lays out and it’s one hell of a wild ride.
The film tells the story of a major data hack that exposes sensitive information about the people in the small town of Salem. When 4 teenage girls get swept up in the controversy and all hell breaks loose, they must fight for their lives in order to survive the night.
The setting of Salem is a proper one, given the witch hunt following the data hack that leaves many lives in the community ruined. The witch hunt in the film serves as a warning on many levels. The film smartly, and very stylishly, demonstrates that the initial reaction to having one’s deepest secrets revealed for all to see is to lash out in self righteousness while brushing aside the wrongdoing that was exposed. It also shows the dangerous mob mentality from the people who were exposed seeking what they say is justice, but what is actually revenge.
The world of Assassination Nation and its 4 young characters is slick and flashy and defined largely by appearances, boredom, and manufactured moments created for social-media purposes.
Director Sam Levinson immerses the viewer in this world early on by utilizing several music-filled, slow motion, montage-like scenes. This momentary-enhancing, music video style gives the film a polished appearance yet creates disconnect and shallow feeling to the lives of the teenage girls. What this technique does later on is raise the stakes and creates empathy when the girls are forced to fight and find out what they’re made of. When this fight or flight moment arrives and the girls take a stand, the music video style sporadically returns to show the girls are comfortable with the decision to fight.
The performances are excellent across the board. Odessa Young gives an absolute star making performance as she perfectly portrays the deeply troubled Lily trying to cope with her own leaked data: intimate pictures of her found on the phone of an older, married man. When it comes time for her to fight back, Young boldly creates what should become a cult icon out of Lily. Her and her friend Bex (Hari Nef, in a very confident performance), are the two most fully realized characters in the film. I only wish Abra and the talented Suki Waterhouse were as realized and had more to do, because the group of girls all had excellent on screen chemistry.
A lot has been said of the social commentary of the film and its strong feminist stance. That’s all true and has been the focus on the movie since Neon acquired it. I’m here to say there is so much more to this film than only that. This is American cinema at its finest. It’s beautifully made with breathtaking cinematography. There’s one long panning sequence circling a home towards the end that would make Hitchcock smile. There’s blood, guns, creepy masked mobs, murder, revenge, terror, and messages on top of messages.
The film suggests that the world we live in is even scarier than we thought, that our secrets and privacy are thinly veiled and at constant risk. What’s scarier is that not a lot of us seem to care until it’s too late.
Assassination Nation packs heavy-handed punches, and you may have to look down the barrel of a few guns to see its ultimate message, but I think the reference of ‘assassination’ in the title isn’t just referring to physical violence. It also is referring to character assassination and how the self righteous, social-media, mob mentality of modern day America seeks to destroy lives by bullying and instantly deeming someone’s life useless or not worthy based on bits of largely out of context information.
Perhaps the most honest scene in the film is when Bex sleeps with a guy she’s had her eye on at a party. When the guy leaves and says, “you’re not going to tell anybody about this, right,” there’s an all too familiar look on Bex’s face. She realizes, as the audience does with her, that this has happened before; that a one night stand started with the hope of something more to follow.
This sense of familiar abandonment shows not only her humanity but her femininity as well. As a guy, I recognized that look on her face, that power men have over women to hurt them in intimate situations. It’s a brilliant scene that shows the film is coming from a deeply genuine place and gave weight and credence to the more extreme scenarios that followed.
I’m not sure why Assassination Nation under-performed at the box office. One review called it Mean Girls meets The Purge, and comparisons have also been drawn to Heathers. I’d have to say those comparisons are accurate, and I’d like to say it’s American Beauty meets Taxi Driver.
I’m left wondering why audiences didn’t turn out in droves for this film. But if there’s one audience that without question should go see Assassination Nation, it’s the horror loving, midnight movie audience.
Make no mistake about it: ‘Assassination Nation’ is a horror movie. If ‘The Purge’ feels like America’s future, then ‘Assassination Nation’ feels like its present. It’s a loud, stylish, and in your face warning. And it’s fucking awesome. Go see it, you’ll love it.