“Assassination Nation” is a wannabe feminist revenge fantasy, a heavy-handed, metaphor-filled, angry little film about toxic masculinity that’s often too clever for its own good. The film’s high energy atmosphere, talented cast, and trail of gruesome, bloody violence may score big with horror genre fans, but its distinctive mash-up of social commentary with classic exploitation could both delight and disgust thoughtful moviegoers.
High school senior Lily (Odessa Young) and her crew of best friends (Hari Nef, Abra, and Suki Waterhouse) live in a social media haze of texts, posts, selfies and chats. But when an anonymous hacker starts posting details from the private lives of everyone in their small town, a few nudie pics and racy texts cause the entire town to go crazy. A deadly mob mentality ensues after the girls are fingered for the hack, causing most of the white men townsfolk to take up arms, form savage gangs, and start hunting the four teens. Eventually, Lily and her friends start to question whether they’ll live through the night.
Think of this film as “Kill Bill” meets “A Clockwork Orange” meets “Spring Breakers” meets “Heathers.” The film is as interesting as it is unique, even if overall it’s a little too artistically academic. The 1970s washed-out cinematography vibe starts to feel gimmicky early on, as does the muted lighting, vintage costumes, distracting soundtrack, and the irritating slow motion and split screen shots that pepper the screen. The film seems to be a little too in love with itself and its visual ideas, which are no doubt being assumed to be groundbreaking (they aren’t). The script is off-putting in its obviousness. How clearly is everything spelled out? The film is set in a town called Salem (get it?!).
The film gets off to a very slow start and is a trying exercise for the first hour. Stick with it. After the story finds its footing, it becomes a scary and suspenseful roller coaster of bloody female rage. The feminist battle cry is effective but also undermined by the film’s exploitative vibe. While writer / director Sam Levinson opines on the horrors that come from the treatment of women as objects, he also seems to take great pleasure in dressing the girls in skimpy outfits and over-sexualizing the blood-spattered violence. It feels unsettling in a way that certainly wasn’t intended. The lead characters are rebellious and smart, sexually liberal young women who rally against society’s general problem with nudity and the Lolita complex — while sexting dirty pictures to the fortysomething dad (Joel McHale) next door. It’s a film full of contradictions, but that doesn’t make the points any less valid.
“Assassination Nation” is an inventive, gruesome look at how quickly the court of public opinion can ruin (and even end) lives forever. It is one of the more interesting films of the year, and its message is one that’s as timely as it is important.