Assassination Nation: Review
Assassination Nation is without a doubt an interesting film. The film is a sort of twisted love child of films like Eight Grade which examine growing up in the social media age and The Purge, where social unrest leads to radically violent outburst that bring out the worst in humanity. If that combination seems weird to you then I can only say, welcome to Assassination Nation.
When I first saw the trailer for Assassination Nation I was hesitant, mostly because the trailer focused on a “trigger warning” montage that seemed to be desperately trying to create controversy. This is literally the same advertising technique Paradise PD used. Media that focuses on this type of thing rarely has much else to do but offer cheap/offensive humor in lieu of actually clever satire. So it did not bode well when the film starts with the same “trigger warning” that we see in the trailer (it is literally the same clip). What followed was an interesting mix of brutal social commentary and violent action.
Most of Assassination Nation simply follows four teenage girls in a small town of Salem as they live their lives in today’s screen obsessed world (Salem is not the town name by coincidence and yes, the subtext is far from subtle in the end). Like many teenagers, their private lives away from prying parents and teachers ranges from typical life of an American kid and a darker adult world they are very much, secretly, aware of and a part of. The main catalyst of the story is a series of high profile hacks that start to make their way out; initially a mayor and a principle have their cell phone data hacked only to eventually have most of the town’s private lives suddenly thrown into the public sphere. This plays out almost like a b-plot through most of the first two acts of the film; that is until the private texts and images from half the town go public and pull the lead character, Lily (Odessa Young) head first into the b-plot which has now become the main story. This is when things really go off the rails.
The first two acts play out a lot like an experimental film maker’s version of a teen movie; highly stylized and unapologetic in its’ explicit nature, but nothing really “new” for a teen film. It is the third act, when much of the town’s information has been made public, that the film sharply changes direction into a Purge knock-off. It takes forever to get to this point, at least it feels that way considering how the film has been sold, but the sharp turn does help to display just how dark and twisted the events of the film have left the town. What follows is an incredibly violent and brutal third act where much of the town of Salem loses their minds and begins chasing down the four leads seeking violent revenge for their perceived wrongs.
This final act is without a doubt the strongest of Assassination Nation. This was even more evident when re-watching the trailer while writing this review I realized almost all of the footage that makes it up, came from this part of the film. The final act moves along briskly, every scene is goose bump inducing and features some amazingly well shot action scenes (specifically an extremely unnerving home invasion). Above all though, this is where the film’s social commentary works best. This final act set out to depict an online hate mob translated to real life, and it’s done incredibly well. One scene that captures this spectacularly is when an angry mob, all wearing mask to remain anonymous, having just murdered several people and attempting to murder several teenage girls, chants “We’re good people.” They are all in a blind murderous rage due to what they think the girls have done and have rationalized why they are the ones doing the right thing in this moment. Many films feature mobs but Assassination Nation really nails the mob mentality that so often defines real life violent mobs like this. Much of the final act is incredibly tense as a result.
As is often the case, Assassination Nation also operates on most of the characters in the film being brainless. Lilly’s parents for example seem completely unable to comprehend the idea that a father might have photos of his children taking a bath in a non-sexual way or that Lilly, their 18 year old daughter who’s had a boyfriend for a long time in the film, might be sexually active. These characters don’t come off as fleshed out characters that are just simply naïve parents, rather it feels like they are intentionally dumb for the sake of helping the movie’s plot along and creating drama. The whole situation for the film is extreme and obviously not really grounded in reality, but that doesn’t mean you have to toss out realistic characters. Characters that do insanely dumb things no one would actually do just to propel the plot forward are the worst and this movie is lousy with them.
When all is said and done and the credits roll Assassination Nation has a lot it wants to say but mostly just says a lot of nothing very loudly. There’s just enough interesting social commentary and stylistic film making going on to warrant some attention but never quite comes together. It’ll leave you thinking, and some of it will be genuine consideration about our social media obsessed nation. However a slightly bigger chunk of what you’re thinking is, “god that was dumb.” In short, it’s a mixed bag.
Final Rating: 5/10
GoG Break Down:
How it was viewed: Theater
Running time: 1hr 50m
Recommend viewing: Netflix or similar
Why you should see it: The film does have some poignant and relevant commentary to make.
Why you shouldn’t see it: You leave the theater actually kind of feeling dirty.