Assassination Nation Reviews
Centred around a quartet of unapologetically shallow teen girls more concerned with getting likes on Instagram than decent grades, and culminating in an orgy of gender-demarcated violence, Assassination Nation seems to set out to try to offend everyone - from the social justice warriors on the left to the second amendment fetishisers on the right, from Millennial snowflakes who have never known life without social media to Baby boomers who just can't get their head around why going viral is so important. And pretty much everyone in between. The satirical ire of writer/director Sam Levinson's second feature, however, is aimed more specifically at those who tend to see the proclivities of sexually "aggressive" (i.e., sexually confident) young women through misogyny-tinted glasses as the ruination of society (the type of insecure males who believe the term "toxic masculinity" is an oxymoron). Starting out as a commentary on a society becoming ever more defined by online hysteria and the erosion of traditional concepts of privacy, the film charts a course from Heathers and Mean Girls to The Purge by way of The Second Civil War and Blackhat. True, it does run out of steam in its third act, and, overall, it tries to take on too many issues. Nevertheless, this is perceptive stuff, with a solid central socio-political thesis and a savagely satirical narrative.
The film works primarily by way of exaggeration, as with so much great Juvenalian satire. Levinson is not positing the story as a possible real-world scenario. This isn't social realism. Instead, he is accentuating the damage such a thing could do to highlight our own society's very real obsession with social media and the concomitant importance of digital privacy. He sets the tone immediately. The opening shot shows a camera moving along a suburban street, passing by idyllic white picket fences, Blue Velvet-style, with people performing mundane tasks such as emptying the trash and watering the lawn. Except everyone is wearing a mask of some kind. A voice-over then informs us that this is a story about how Salem "lost its motherf***ing mind."
How the film deal with the male gaze is especially interesting. An early shot shows the four girls walking into school in slow motion as the camera starts at their feet and slowly pans up their bare legs before moving around behind them. Towards the end of the film, the exact same shot is repeated, but in this instance, the girls are effectively going to war, and the male gaze is no longer an issue, something the film draws to the audience's attention by replicating the form of the earlier shot - in short, the male gaze is reproduced so as to satirise and ridicule it.
Another aesthetically interesting scene occurs after the data dump, but prior to people turning on one another, when a girl learns her best friend has been mocking her behind her back. The scene starts out normal enough, but soon the camera turns upside-down and we see the girl standing against an unrealistically large American flag, indicating that something within the social fabric has fundamentally changed. Indeed, speaking of the American flag, it's a recurring motif, but we rarely see it without a gun nearby, usually in the same shot. Make of that what you will.
One of the film's strengths, but also one of its weaknesses, is the sheer volume of issues with which it engages; misogyny, feminism, fempowerment, social media, sexual assault, #MeToo, bullying, gun culture, toxic masculinity, the male gaze, racism, gang mentality, digital privacy, desensitisation, mansplaining. The film especially addresses the myriad ways that young girls are represented on social media, deconstructing and satirising the inherently misogynistic assumptions that underpin many of our attitudes to online behaviour.
Unfortunately, because the film tries to deal with so much, many of the issues are raised only to be touched on once or twice, and then dropped. Aside from that, the last act essentially turns into The Purge, wherein the girls turn into the leaders of a righteous avenging vigilante group facing off against the intolerance born of right-wing jingoism, a conflict drawn primarily along gender lines, although not exclusively. It's a disappointingly simplistic denouement given the complexity and thematic depth of the preceding narrative.
Nevertheless, depicting a cultural anxiety that is uniquely contemporary, Assassination Nation is an unexpectedly smart film examining weighty topics of great importance to the socio-political moment. While it is immensely strong in its depiction of teenage gender politics, gun culture, online behaviour etc, it falters when it comes to the dynamics of the narrative, setting up several strands which never pay off, and ending a little weakly. Nevertheless, the questions it raises are important ones, and they are very well asked.
High school senior Lily and her group of friends live in a haze of texts, posts, selfies and chats just like the rest of the world. So, when an anonymous hacker starts posting details from the private lives of everyone in their small town, the result is absolute madness leaving Lily and her friends questioning whether they'll live through the night.
So the trailers to this film absolutely fascinated me. I thought they were interesting, weird, and really captivating. I thought, maybe this film will stretch some boundaries in a good way? Maybe shed some light on some social issues but when I actually watched this film, it wasn't really any of that. In fact, it was a pretty big disappointment. Oh well.
Alright, one thing I didn't love about this film was the characters, or even the actors for that matter. It's not to say the acting was bad, because it wasn't - but it wasn't great at all. I felt like the performances were underwhelming, almost forced at times. The characters had no depth to them, nor did we care about any of them. So as a result, neither aspects are strong and neither make the movie any better.
This is a weird, different kind of movie. It almost feels experimental in a sorts. However, I guess I never really understood the purpose to this film. I felt like they were trying to touch on a bunch of subjects but never really narrowed their view toward one. The film essentially built toward some grand, bad-ass finale but fell short and never really built toward anything.
In the end, "Assassination Nation" was an okay film. It had some interesting concepts in it, but it never really came together.
In a good way though. A way that works, makes you think, but still has all #TheAesthetic‚Ę you can shake a stick at, it just makes you feel bad for shaking that stick. Do you like The Purge but feel that the mirror it holds up is too general? Wanna feel bad about feeling good? Give Assassination Nation a crack.