A portrayal of modern America that has terrifying relevancy, Assassination Nation is unapologetic in its aggressive warning against where the world is headed.
“Trigger warnings include Homophobia, Transphobia, Sexism, Attempted Rape, Murder, Torture and Fragile Male Ego’s.” These are just a few of the warnings that begin Assassination Nation, causing a nervous chuckle in the audience and setting the tone for the rest of the film to come. Set in suburban town Salem (yes, *that* Salem), the film follows four teenage feminists Lily, Bex, Em and Sarah, all of whom embrace their sexuality openly, echoing elements of Lolita-esque behaviour and generally rebelling against the white picket fence mentality of the town. A series of cyber-hackings take place, targeting important figures in Salem which eventually leads back to the girls. Chaos ensues, and the town is plunged into a dystopian, violent and nightmarish place in which the members take it upon themselves to administer their own version of justice as they see fit.
There are (and will continue to be) many interpretations of what this film is ‘really’ about. On the surface, it’s a high school horror flick warning kids to clear their browser history. However, as you peel back the layers of gorgeous neon aesthetic, there are much darker and sinister messages lurking in Assassination Nation, including the dangers of internet anonymity, the impact of misogyny on young women, the empowerment of the young white man in Trump’s America, the consequences of disappearing privacy in an increasingly online world, and the power of hate and fear. It’s scarily relevant to this day and age.
Director Sam Levinson delivers these messages in an aggressive, uncomfortable, but incredibly effective way. Like watching a car crash in slow motion, we know that the events unfolding are awful, but cannot help looking anyway, making it ever more chilling when we are left to consider the outcome in reality once the credits roll. Levinson does a great job of keeping up the pace, never letting our interest in the characters dwindle, and although there is little in the way of in-depth character study, this lends the film further to being applicable to today’s society, with the characters simultaneously acting as victims and vehicles of the film’s message. The cinematography keeps us guessing (in a good way), and with a relatively low-key cast, the standout performance comes from Hari Nef playing Bex. The transgender model does a superb job of providing depth to what could have so easily been a throw away character, instead portraying a compelling depiction of female struggles. Some of the other characters could have benefited from further screen time, as many slip out from the script leaving us wondering where they went.
Despite minor flaws, Assassination Nation is a breath of fresh air, making its opinion heard loud and clear through an aesthetic that lends itself well to the big screen. Becoming trigger happy towards the end, the film is at risk of alienating its more sensitive and less prepared viewers, however if you are invested enough to stick it out, the final sequence packs the punch that audiences have definitely been waiting for, and for some, a final message that has been missing from cinema for a while.
Assassination Nation, directed by Sam Levinson, is distributed in the UK by Universal Pictures, certificate 18.