Assassination Nation review Odessa Young Hari Nef ABRA Suki WaterhouseYear: 2018
Director(s): Sam Levinson
Writer(s): Sam Levinson
Region of Origin: USA
Rating: R
Digital, Color, 110 mins

Synopsis: After a malicious data hack exposes the secrets of  Salem, chaos descends and four girls must fight to survive, while coping with the hack themselves. (Source)

“This is 100%, a true story.” That’s the bold line that opens director Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation. A modern, satiric take on the Salem Witch trials, Levinson’s film is ferocious and unapologetic. It paints a bloody bullseye on a nation that’s devouring itself from the inside out. Imagine Godard remaking The Crucible and ending up with an off-the-rails blend of Heathers and The Purge. The film even comes packed with its own prelude of trigger warnings, playing out as assaulting barrage on the senses. Throughout, Levinson leaves nothing off the table, confronting xenophobia, social media hypocrisy, misogyny, fragile male ego and more in a way that’s exhausting but utterly necessary. Needless to say, the film is an instant classic, featuring an eclectic cast, feminist catharsis and grindhouse glee with equal aplomb.

Nothing else matters to besties Lily (Odessa Young), Bex (Hari Nef), Em (Abra) and Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), but each other. For these four high school girls, the world is an ever shifting sea of boys, school and family drama. Their lives are turned upside down, however, when a hacker begins to leak data about the town’s inhabitants, sending forth a flood of private text messages, emails, photos, social media sins and more. Once the town’s dirty secrets start to circulate, it creates an infectious disease of hate, anger and confusion. In this world full of victims, someone has to take the blame. Suddenly, Lily, Bex, Em and Sarah find themselves as everyone’s favorite scapegoats. The girls eventually take up arms, as a wave of violence turns everyone into a walking target.

With a breakneck pace and tone that feels like a drug-addled fever dream, Levinson deconstructs how the internet has emboldened the most toxic parts of human nature, nurturing a society living their best lie. The story essentially exposes the duality that we’re all capable of (targeting specifically male authority figures), as we segregate the parts of us that people see, vs the lives we live on the internet or behind each other’s backs. The hacks also directly call out a society that’s become judge and jury. Just as in the real, mob mentality constantly swoops in without any fear of consequence. Luckily, Levinson handles his scandals masterfully, keeping everything character based as he makes us question our own biases and prejudices. It all ends up shining a light on the stringent standards that divide and tear us down while we remain trapped in a rotting cycle. Amidst all of this, Lily and her friends are the film’s anchor. As everything ratchets up to an orgy of violence, they become heroines who cement the film’s core of female friendship and resilience.

Assassination Nation review Odessa YoungLevinson’s style and relentless rhythm is equal only to his talented performers. Everyone is impeccably cast and makes up an irresistible ensemble. Headlining the entire thing, Odessa Young’s Lily embodies the film’s anger, frustration and sobering voice. As Lily, Young tells things like they are, carries an irresistible swagger, yet doesn’t lose the humanity that is within her. It’s a nuanced performance that hits all the right notes. Hari Nef’s Bex gets the next most fully formed character. Nef exudes bravery and inner-strength, as a trans-teen dealing with a lot of unsaid prejudice. She is full stop charismatic, uplifting all the scenes that she’s in and giving the film its empathy. Suki Waterhouse’s Sarah and Abra’s Em round out the girls in a way that makes their relationship feel real, even if they don’t have as much screen time. Amidst the massive backing cast, Colman Domingo, Bill Skarsgard and Joel McHale add texture to the story’s web of tragedy and vengeance.

Assassination Nation is a lot to digest, but it’s a film that couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s confrontational and ferocious, but also feels like a direct response to the vicious political and social climate growing worse each day. Never has a film felt like such a welcomed middle finger to the American status quo, ripping down patriarchal hypocrisy and social excess without pulling punches. Above all, Levinson’s film feels like an apocalyptic cautionary tale written for a society on the brink. It’ll be interesting to see how this ages. Will we look back at it and see an unfortunate time in our past? Or will we continue to dive deeper into this nightmarish, dog-eat-dog reality until there’s nothing left? Only time will tell, but for now, this film is exactly what we need.

SG