Directed by: Sam Levinson
Written by: Sam Levinson
Starring: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse, Abra, Colman Domingo, John McHale, Bill Skarsgard, Bella Thorne, Maude Apatow
Review by Mia Santos
If you watch Assassination Nation, you’re in for a wild ride! This horror-satire has the femme and queer-centric, exploitation sass similar to 1989’s Heathers with the grotesque, un-apologetic, mindless violence in America outlook like The Purge. With a satirical trigger warning montage that starts off the film, the viewer is prompted with what to expect. Things like “drug use” and “sexual content” to the “male gaze” and “fragile male egos” are among the massive list. While entertaining and action packed until the end, writer-director Sam Levinson overwhelms this story with a messy progression and worthwhile concepts not properly fleshed out.
The film is apparently based on a true story. Taking place in a town called Salem, we follow Lily played by Odessa Young and her three best friends Bex (Hari Nef), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) and Em (Abra). High school life is the typical for these girls. They are incredibly stylish, suffer through school together, party hard on weeknights to keep up their social media personas while Lily alludes to keeping secrets from her friends and family.
Things begin to go haywire when the super conservative mayor of the city is hacked. His less than conservative personal files and images are passed around the town. The girls discuss privacy and how the “old people” are trying to fight it while their generation embraces the reality of privacy being dead. Unfortunately, it only escalates from there when eventually half the town is hacked causing an uproar of violent mobs determined to find the person responsible for the data leak. It becomes a “witch hunt” for the town of Salem, and our girls become the hunted.
Lily and Bex shine in this film. They are empowered, sexually liberated and badass! Throughout the entire film, they are especially objectified and ridiculed by the men and boys in the town, and it’s exciting to watch them stand up for themselves and fight back. However, Sarah and Em’s backstories fall by the wayside even though one of the best scenes in the film, a home invasion occurs in Em’s home where she lives with her single mother, Nance.
During certain points in the film, the screen splits into three vertical panels each showing different aspects of a scene playing like an insta story. It’s a very visceral motif that nods to this generation’s love of constant multitasking and filming our everyday endeavours. The film also uses overlays of the texts shared between Lily and “Daddy” a character she sends sexy selfies to and cheats on her boyfriend Mark (Bill Skårsgard) with or Lily and her friends. The film is bright and wonderfully shot. It’s bold with colour pops and a frenzied style. It keeps a vibrant, hostile tone throughout that keeps you on your feet albeit predictable at times. Things you’d expect to happen in a horror!
I appreciate how the film makes you reconsider what’s on your phone. If this ever actually happened would I be safe? Have I ever crossed the line in any of my twitter replies? It also tells a millennial, female-centric story showing a very close and refreshing women friendship. I adore the bond these ladies have for one another and how they stick by each other’s side to the end. The lack of cattines, back-stabbing and their intelligent pool-side conversations about women and trans women experiences are also something to be mentioned and applauded.
I also enjoyed the sprinkle of meta motifs in between. When the girls are walking to class and Bex exclaims she loves this song. The friends look at each other and ask “Which song?” She snaps her fingers and says “This song!” and it begins playing as they fiercely walk in unison. Although Assassination Nation starts the film with a battle of the town vs. the internet, it soon morphs into a gender war that becomes too big for the film itself to handle. I enjoyed the ending of the story, but overall, it felt unfinished for me.
Watch it! It’s a visual rollercoaster that doesn’t shy away from scenes that will make you uncomfortable and rage for our protagonists. I promise you revenge is sweet and it will have you fist pumping and cheering on the young women in their gore and glory. If you’re a Judd Apatow fan like myself, look out for his daughter Maude Apatow’s small but satisfying role as Grace. She really goes up to bat with this role… literally. Assassination Nation overall is empowering, feminist and displays strong women who are unapologetic for who they are and shouldn’t be messed with. This film would benefit being seen on the big screen. But if you’re not into horror, dark comedies or thrillers with plenty of triggers and gore, I suggest you sit this one out.