Assassination Nation review: A battering ram of provocation and feminist angst

It's a kind of 2018 reboot of the Salem witch trials: it's the same target – the sexually free woman – but different times

Clarisse Loughrey
Thursday 22 November 2018 13:38
Assassination Nation - Trailer 2

Dir: Sam Levinson; Starring: Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, Abra, Anika Noni Rose. Cert 18, 108 mins

Assassination Nation opens with a list of trigger warnings: abuse, toxic masculinity, bullying, transphobia, nationalism, the male gaze, murder. It’s easy to see this as a dig at the so-called “snowflake generation”, considered too weak to handle the chaos that engulfs a suburban American town after a computer hacker uploads the residents’ deepest, darkest secrets onto the internet.

By the film’s closing shots, however, a different perspective emerges: this is the story of young women fighting back against armed men out for retribution. A young woman’s world turns out to be a literal battlefield of triggers.

It’s a message this film, quite happily, gets across by taping a loudspeaker to your head and screaming into it. Writer and director Sam Levinson has made the choice – a not particularly inspired one – to equate Gen Z existence with complete overstimulation: it’s all about blood, booty shorts, big guns, and hazy neons.

Characters will loudly compete for your attention, pitted against each other across split-screens, while bass-heavy pop songs charge into any moment that even threatens stillness and quiet.

Assassination Nation is a kind of 2018 reboot of the Salem, Massachusetts, witch trials: it’s the same target – the sexually free woman – but different times (the film is explicitly set in Salem, if you somehow didn’t quite grasp the point). The trigger for our modernday Puritans, however, isn’t an overexposure to LSD-laced fungi (as some historians believe), but a mysterious hacker.

Peaceful suburbia is suddenly interrupted by a mass data leak that gives access to a large chunk of the townspeople’s texts, photos, and internet histories. Inevitably, secrets and infidelities rise to the surface and, because women always take the blame, it’s they who become the target of a Purge-like mob of masked attackers. That is, until the tables turn and Assassination Nation outs itself as a female-revenge film.

And, to Levinson's credit, the film is electric when it acts as a pure vessel for female angst: the suppressed rage, the claustrophobia of patriarchal norms, the constant sense of betrayal. Lily Colson (Odessa Young)'s fling with a father she babysits for (Joel McHale) neatly represents what Lily herself calls the "endless mindf***" of power imbalances in sexual relationships. She wearily sends nude selfie after nude selfie because she instinctively knows it's her only way to leverage control.

Meanwhile, Bex (Hari Nef) is told to keep her hookup with football jock Diamond (Danny Ramirez) a secret because she’s trans. Levinson knows full well how satisfying it can be to break the dam and release the anger, with the film concluding in a dizzying display of ultraviolence.

However, with so much noise, every point the film wants to make has to be roared via lengthy speeches and declarations made straight down the lens. Any deeper meaning becomes lost. When the fires finally subside, there’s not that much to be found in the ashes.

Assassination Nation will be released in UK cinemas on 23 November

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