Film Review: Assassination Nation

This wannabe-satire about high-school girls coping with a hometown devolving into hacker-created chaos is possibly the year’s most obnoxious release.
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Early in Assassination Nation, a character blows his brains out, and writer-director Sam Levinson positions his camera directly behind the man’s head so that we, the audience, are fully splattered with his remains. That moment perfectly encapsulates this obnoxiously extreme “satire,” which rubs one’s face in nonstop ugliness while trying to decide which of its many subjects it wants, at any given instance, to skewer.

From the get-go, Levinson makes every wrongheaded directorial decision imaginable in an apparent effort to make one loathe Assassination Nation—and his success in that regard proves this teensploitation schlock’s lone triumph. Amidst an awful barrage of “trigger warning” montages, color filters, flashbacks and fast-forwards, slow-motion, narration and split screens—so, so, so many split screens—we’re introduced to Lilly (Odessa Young), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), Em (Abra) and Bex (Hari Nef), four BFFs whose high-school lives are dominated by drinking, sexting, gossiping and generally acting like the sort of nightmarish cretins parents hope their children don’t become. These sexpots exist in a town named Salem (foreshadowing alert!) that’s populated by all manner of deviants, be it jocks, cheerleaders, school administrators or the mayor himself. As repulsively visualized by Levinson, it’s suburbia as a hellscape of tarts, douches and perverts, where every girl has a phone filled with nude selfies, every boy is a horndog creep, and every male adult is hiding a deep, dark secret.

Things go terribly wrong in this hamlet once a hacker begins releasing residents’ confidential messages, photos and browser histories, at which point Assassination Nationstrives to fashion some sort of delirious commentary about 21st-century lack of privacy and the potential hazards posed by digital and social media. No matter that its cautionary-tale message (be careful what you record and share!) is immediately obvious, Levinson beats it into the ground with leering, strutting stylistic excess, all while positing everyone in his story as either a creep or a victim of creeps (or both!). One awful thing leads to many more, until finally, the film comes to the conclusion that revealing people’s intimate personal details would lead to societal collapse, and shortly thereafter, the Purge.

Masked men are soon forming posses and hunting for fresh meat—female, in particular, which shifts Assassination Nation’s focus away from pricking modern online paradigms and toward cultural misogyny. Lily, Sarah, Em and Bex (who’s transgender) are cast as prey and, afterwards, as noble avenging feminist angels. Alas, their persecution at the hands of Charlottesville-esque white psychos (highlighted by a sub-Brian De Palma-style sequence shot from outside a home’s windows) might have had more bite had Levinson not first spent so much time depicting his heroines as thoroughly awful. As with an upside-down image of a bat-wielding girl standing on the American flag while stalking cheerleaders practicing an eroticized routine in a darkened gym, everything here is laughably underlined in a vain attempt to Say Something Meaningful about contemporary teenagerdom and America. The only thing conveyed by this wildly moralizing, exhaustingly edgy film, however, is its own shock-tactic self-love.