Assassination Nation (2018) by Sam Levinson
Review by Zach Dennis
My first note is that if you pronounce this title like Led Zeppelin sings “Communication Breakdown,” it is kind of entertaining. The same can’t be said about the movie though.
In the intro to the movie, and the Q&A afterwards, director Sam Levinson talked about making this movie in a response to the anxiety and frustration with the current social climate, and that’s pretty apparent from the early moments of movie, which opens with a “trigger warning.” No, seriously, it actually says that!
Assassination Nation follows a group of high school girls — Lily (Odessa Young), Bex (Hari Nef), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) and Em (Abra) — who get pulled into a phone hacking scandal that turns their hometown of Salem into The Purge. After taking down the mayor and principal of their high school, the hacker begins leaking information on everyone and Lily is placed as the culprit of the hacking after people discover the act came from the IP address for her house.
Among those angry with the hack is Nick (Joel McHale), who is revealed to be having a texting affair with Lily via the hack, which causes his wife to leave with his children and him to turn into a gun-toting rage personification of a conservative Facebook commenter (respect for getting McHale for this role).
What starts as a kind of Heathers or Mean Girls divulges into a Purge-like violent romp where the group of girls are trading bullets with the angry male population of the town. In one sequence, filmed to look like one continuous shot, the group of angry townsfolk infiltrate one of the girls’ homes where the four of them are staying and opens up a fire fight that ends with many of the invaders, and one of the girls’ mothers, dead.
Attempting to probe this mounting anxiety over technology and the angry white male is something that filmmakers are going to be addressing in the years to come, but I can’t say that Assassination Nation will be one of the highlight examples of this as it feels more like an exercise in feeding the audience’s impulse for hyper-violent characters (namely attractive women) and supposed social satire (which comes in short supply here).
Levinson tries to make statements on the fall of men over scandals, but makes it less about #MeToo and more about the mob mentality invoked by these scandals (a point he decides not to really engage with but just show) and how technology and a lack of privacy in today’s culture creates chaos because anything and everything can be revealed at the touch of a key.
None of these really come to a head, and as I mentioned before, are torpedoed for a final act that is more festizistic violence by women rather than being anything substantial.
I think a lot of what this movie is trying to probe is worth doing so, but this isn’t the one that does it. Assassination Nation was one of TIFF’s Midnight Madness movies and played perfectly to that crowd, but as a satire of 2018 culture, it feels misguided and out of touch.