For the first few minutes of Assassination Nation I thought I might groan and eye roll my way through the whole thing. It seems every suburban high school kid is the coolest, worldliest person on earth. This irks me greatly, as I know this is bullshit and too many movies (and tv shows and ad campaigns) have led us to believe this lie for far too long. All of a sudden, you start to realize the movie is aware of this and it’s in that moment you know you’re hooked. The movie has you right where it wants you. Is all that coolness and aloofness a façade? Why, yes indeed it is. Now watch!
We start with a disclaimer from our protagonist, Lily, warning us the following will contain a good deal of triggers. Already, the movie is aware of it’s message and the fourth wall is broken, as it will throughout the remainder. The day then begins like many others. Dropping by to pick up friends, saying hello to friendly neighbors and heading to high school. They do it all with style and panache, but it’s still just another day.
“[Assassination Nation] hit on so many of the issues plaguing the United States right now that the movie feels more like a live tweet.”
The day has drama, sure, but it’s typical high school drama. Gossip, boyfriend issues, parties, teachers, and so on. Everyone is texting, chatting or streaming all the damn time too. That’s why everyone seems to simultaneously know that the mayor has been hacked. Literally all the data from his phone, computer, cloud, tablet, you name it, is sent to everyone in town. Sure enough the conservative, anti-LGBTQ mayor is a closet cross-dresser and is bi at the very least. Gasp!
This causes a section of the population to rise in righteous indignation and condemn the mayor. It also causes the high school students to crack up and mock the whole thing. Before we know it, the same thing happens to the principal of the high school. Again, conservative members of the town get into a frenzy condemning the man, complete with Lock Him Up! chants at the following townhall about it. The teens find this all hilarious.
Their laughter ends when one by one every single member of the town is exposed. Now their frenzy is aimed at each other. A woman attacks another after learning she’s been sleeping with that woman’s wife. A student kills another after learning his so-called-friend had leaked tons of nudes of the student online. And on and on. The town seems to unite in wanting someone to blame for this, never (of course) taking responsibility for their own part in the whole mess.
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The person who is most likely the hacker releases a statement saying Lily, played wonderfully by Odessa Young (Looking for Grace), is responsible. Just like that, the town turns all their bloodlust on Lily and her circle of friends. Problem is, this group of ladies is sick of their shit and is all too happy to fight back.
“The hypocrisy and duality that is so rampant in our culture right now […] make Assassination Nation feel like a documentary….”
Assassination Nation couldn’t be more relevant. It seems to hit on so many of the issues plaguing the United States right now that the movie feels more like a live tweet. Obsession with gun violence? Addressed. Enabling homophobia? You got it. Our obsession with thinking of teens as all partying delinquents? Check. Blame and victimize women? Yep. The dangers of mass communication and social media? You got it.
It does more than check off the boxes of hot topics, though. It digs deep into them. How can we as a society want women to be our sex toys and then call them sluts and whores for obliging us? How can we yearn for privacy while reveling when others are exposed? How can we act so self-righteous and superior to others while we have skeletons in our closets that are vile and evil? The hypocrisy and duality that is so rampant in our culture right now are given the spotlight.
There are times when this movie begins to feel like a two hour lecture. When those times arise, it starts to get boring and ineffective. That said, overall, it keeps your attention through fantastic camera work and truly genuine acting. These actors are so comfortable in even the most minor roles that they make Assassination Nation feel like a documentary at times. That certainly helps to keep one engaged.
That said, we have come to my one warning I’d like to give. This movie is a drama. It is not a horror movie or even a dark comedy. Sure, there are moments that are comedic, but they are seconds long. There are also moments that dip into horror, but only for the last few minutes of the flick. Does that make it a bad movie? No, in fact, it is really great. It just means that if you are looking for a dark comedy in the vein of, say, God Bless America, you’re looking in the wrong place. If you’re after scares, you won’t find them here. The only horror I felt was at the idea of having all my digital secrets exposed.
“Assassination Nation is biting, unsettling and unnerving, [and I wanted] to chunk my phone in the garbage on my way out.”
This movie is biting, unsettling and unnerving, but it isn’t scary at all. I tell you what, though, it did make me want to chunk my phone in the garbage on my way out. Instead, I just checked twitter, to, you know, see what was going on. Perhaps, after all, that’s why this movie is so effective.
The costume designs are modern, stylish and badass. The use of color alone is just delicious. Costume designer Rachel Dainer-Best (Beasts of the Southern Wild) and production designer Michael Grasley really nail down a look that is fresh and memorable. The cinematography by Marcel Rev (Jupiter’s Moon) is truly fantastic. There is a long shot that lasts nearly an entire home invasion scene that is the stuff dreams are made of. As mentioned before, the acting is earnest and flawless.
All in all this movie is a great piece of cinema, just not really about scares or laughs as advertised. While the kills are few, they are very well done. It lags a bit at times, but overall is poignant, stylish and impactful. Check it out tonight and let us know what you think in, you guessed it, social media land.