Assassination Nation - 2018
Director(s): Sam Levinson
Writer(s): Sam Levinson
Cinematography by: Marcell Rév
Editor(s): Ron Patane
Cast: Bill Skarsgård, Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse, Abra, Colman Domingo and Joel McHale
Assassination Nation was very divisive when it premiered in this year’s Sundance Film Festival, something that is not that uncommon. If you wander over to the “hype” movies receive coming out of Sundance, they tend to fall in four categories: award season headlines, festival darlings, extremely divisive and how the hell did this make it to Sundance. But once they hit the mainstream box office, audiences rarely align with critics. When it comes to Assassination Nation (58% audience rating), though, they seem to be seeing eye to eye. Walking out of this movie, I can see how you will either hate it or love it. Let’s talk about it.
The story takes place in Salem, Massachusetts around a high-school that is facing the wrath of a hacker exposing all the secrets the town wants to hide. After the hacker reveals the secrets of over half of the town, chaos overtakes that social norm and the townsfolk are dead-set on tracking down and killing whoever is responsible for leaking the information. Their hate and anger soon is aimed at four teenage girls that will have to defend themselves since nobody will. This movie aims to take-down or simply point out many current societal problems, even if they simply gloss over them. We see highlighted toxic masculinity, slut shaming, hate disguised as patriotism, hate fueled by the anonymity provided by the internet and the mob mentality of how we jump on a hateful hashtag, ignoring the person we are now hating without knowing any of the facts. Despite this being a laundry list of social commentaries, Levinson managed to say nothing at all other than knowing that they exist. It ultimately feels like someone at a coffee shop trapping his fellow line-mate into a conversation he doesn’t want to have.
Quick note: Get it? Salem? You know, the Salem Witch trials? Cool.
Now despite the message being convoluted and ultimately hollow, the overall look and feel of the film is so stylish and entertaining that many will overlook the failed attempt of social commentary (with a slightly preachy tone) and be fully entertained by the violence and the cinematography. Levinson and Rév clearly had a blast shooting this movie. The amount of creative camera angles, the way they played with lighting and the juxtaposition of the cute teenage girl’s scene with the gore and extreme violence were elements they clearly thought out and executed with passion. There is a sequence in which a group of invaders slowly enter the house of the girls that is shot beautifully. It felt inspired, like a mix of Birdman and The Purge but in the best way. It created tension and it added a lot to the feel of the overall story. Also, the score is heart-pounding and makes you fall in line with the girls.
Quick note: I was disappointed in how social media is displayed in this movie since it plays such a big role in the plot development. This year’s Eight Grade did it far better just to name an example as to how it should be done.
The acting is good all-around and at times felt a bit too real. Especially the scenes where the girls are being held against their will by men and being belittled. Sure, some get their comeuppance but you still have to sit there cringing at the sequences. Odessa Young keeps the ship upright, balancing her performance between what Hollywood sees as a typical teenager in 2018 and a human being trying to keep her life above water despite the horror surrounding her. Outside of her, the rest of the cast blends in to a big overwhelming feeling of “fine”.
Assassination Nation is a hyper-stylized violent movie that, if trends are to be trusted, is destined to be a cult classic. With such a big divide in both audience and critic reception, it’s hard to fully recommend this movie. While it strives to be progressive and thought provoking, many of the themes are glossed over or simply used as vehicles to push forward the violence and the over-the-top nature of the world it’s set in. I didn’t hate my time, but I wanted much more to go alone with the buckets of blood and the dark comedy. It also doesn’t help that the ending is predictable and a bit abrupt. Odessa Young is why I love movies.
Assassination Nation is currently playing in theaters. I would wait for it to hit Netflix.
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