Sam Levinson (director)
23 November 2018 (released)
23 November 2018
Assassination Nation ostensibly looks at how a series of hackings effect a town for it to all snowball to extremes. A good idea though complicated by a whole host of other live issues that water down the main point leading to a very stylish, very topical if somewhat fractured film.
Lily and her pals are a quartet of media savvy girls, part of a generation who are happy to accept that privacy is no longer sacrosanct. The mere fact of putting something online means that you are out there for the taking. Thus they are almost indiscriminate with what they do put out to the public. Highly sexualised it feeds the imagination and prejudice of the town’s population. The girls do however have their secrets.
A series of hacks hit the population of Salem that embarrass and condemn the victims. A hypocritical mayor is considered a fool, the principal of the town's school a victim of ignorance and malice. The mob are now baying and as the films progresses they turn towards girl’s output. With burning torches and pitchforks swopped for guns and cars they move in on them forcing the girls into extreme action.
Using the Salem witch trials of 1692/93 as a loose frame, director/writer Sam Levinson machine guns in lots of sex, misogyny, paedophilia, Russia, US politics and other assorted live issues, with the red, white and blue of the USA almost omnipresent. It’s blatant that Levinson thinks the nation has problems but this is all too much for the narrative to realistically handle.
More interestingly threaded through the film is the notion that maybe teens are actually not that naive and some know damn well what they are doing, good or bad. The text exchanges between Lily and A N Other are icky to start with and go from there. It treads on the dangerous territory of self-responsibility and Levinson teases with that, though its clear nothing they do deserves the reaction they receive.
The writing is wilfully intended to offend though this writer can only guess if any of the teen chat has a ring of authenticity, and happily leave that to others to ponder. What do stick out are the speeches that punctuate the film and mess up its flow.
That said one of the best scenes in the film is when Lily it taken to task by her teacher for an erotic drawing and totally bamboozles him with her explanation. It’s brilliantly assured performance by Odessa Young displaying both high intelligence and contempt. (Strangely this scene was removed from the US version otherwise it would have received a box office poisoning NC-17 ie under 17’s barred from entry.)
Overall it’s a slick operation as Levinson plays with cinematic formats; the girls in slow motion march to school or later as the camera floats around the house on several levels as attackers laying siege. The ending is a little silly and lumpen as the town of Salem gather together to deal with its supposed sinners, who have other ideas.
The violence is unpleasant though in context maybe no more so than other sequences when a wronged boyfriend takes his revenge on the girl, or the attraction of an older man to a minor.
Is it a horror film? Well it has horrific elements and takes issues to the nth degree bordering on the fantastic. But the knowing manipulation of characters and audience alike distances it so that it becomes something to pick at which the arty set may like to indulge in. Whatever, it’s an interesting experiment in concept, vision and writing.