Just picture it: the first few seconds of your first impression is engulfed in snide narration and hyperactive trigger warnings promising a tidal wave of diverse exploitive subjects. This sensory assault is the introduction (and honest sell) of Sam Levinson’s hyperreal fever dream marketed as a satirical thriller. Although skirting the inexplicable and the absurd, Assassination Nation is a pulpy and immensely entertaining roller coaster, hallmarked by its relentless sociocritical bite and refined cinematic craft.
Lily Colson (Odessa Young) is a Salem high school student spending her day-to-day with her friends Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), Bex (Hari Nef), and Em (Abra) partying and drifting through their life on social media. However, when people are increasingly targeted in a data leak, a growing mountain of dirty laundry fuels literal anarchy in the streets. Rumors abound and paranoia infects all those who hadn’t yet been touched by the breach; fear, shame, and anger spread like viruses. While the townspeople scorch their way across the city in search of the hacker, Lily and her friends work to survive the chaos by any means necessary.
“Fragile (and toxic) masculinity, slut shaming, transphobia, and mob hysteria are on the chopping block, and none escape a gory demise…”
This petri dish has reactions so damn explosive, that the only accurate way to describe the story and execution is a nuclear detonation. Unrelenting, almost virulent and completely unapologetic, the story barrels along its warpath, taking shots at everyone along the way. Fragile (and toxic) masculinity, slut shaming, transphobia, and mob hysteria are among those on the chopping block, and none escape a gory demise. Levinson’s screenplay is bursting with wit, hilarity, and scorn, dragging society through a meat grinder while serving up commentative sociocultural cocktails (taking gruesome shots at the facade of “good-natured” neighborhoods, like if Shadow of a Doubt was assaulted by The Purge). Although blatant with its satire, it traipses the line between exploitive and impactful rather deftly, never overselling any particular point or trope more than what each moment demands.
Levinson’s stellar direction and command of his craft allow the shining aspects of veteran Marcell Rév’s (White God) spellbinding cinematography, and the cerebral editorial style of Ron Patane (A Most Violent Year) to excel in the most unexpected ways. An intoxicating mixture of split-screen editing, simultaneous scene progression, and highly inventive camerawork (much of which is thoroughly impressive crane shots, some of which cover entire scenes) allows the world, the characters, and their arcs to come alive. This is a significant and crucial feat, especially given the film’s supercharged hyperreal approach. While exponentially excessive, it revels in that fact, sparing little mercy for its cast as it juggles its many thematic throughlines and social criticisms.
“…fiercely emblematic of many underlying mentalities in contemporary America…”
I have sincerely struggled to come up with some valid critiques for this film. Besides a stumble with the plotting in the conclusion, and a shoot-out falling victim (probably on purpose) to the infinite ammo cliche, this sardonic experience channeling Bret Easton Ellis is by far one of the most potent gut-punches brought to screens this year. Its blocking, musical arrangement, and amazing performances are all other things to be marveled over as well, even if the film doesn’t quite resonate with you. Although its stylistic eccentricities and hardened violence will turn more casual moviegoers away, Assassination Nation is fiercely emblematic of many underlying mentalities in contemporary America, and serves them up on a platter lined with emojis and lit explosives.
Assassination Nation (2018) Directed by Sam Levinson. Written by Sam Levinson. Starring Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, Abra.
9 out of 10