In the suburb of Salem, Massachusetts a hacker is leaking the private information of its citizens on a grand scale. The town, forced to confront its true nature, soon descends into bloody chaos. Lilly (Odessa Young) and her friends are blamed for the leaks and must fight for their lives as an armed mob tries to enact their revenge on the girls in a 21st-century retelling of the Salem witch trials.
‘Assassination Nation’ is a film that has its eye on the present and the past. It is, in essence, a very nasty film sharing a lot of its DNA with the likes of ‘Straw Dogs’ (1971), which even gets a passing name check. Unlike the moral grey area that Peckinpah works in, Sam Levinson makes it very clear that he has moral intentions and a coherent satirical point.
Part teen drama, part nihilistic exploitation flick, the film takes a broad shot at the anxieties of 21st-century life, especially for those just coming of age. It can have a surprising amount of nuance and complexity when it buckles down to tackle its themes in dialogue. The film starts with a trigger warning, flashes of scenes to come with their salacious content subtitled all in quick succession. This creates an unease that stays throughout the film as even when things seem peaceful you know that a horrible act is just waiting to rear its head.
Conversely, it can be very much in your face and a real shocker. This mainly works because of the characters, they are not particularly deep in themselves but as a whole they are lovable and the later parts of the film only work because we are invested in their story. Sure, it descends into a revenge fantasy but considering what the characters are put through, a good old bloodbath is sufficiently cathartic.
It is not without its problems. For a film about female empowerment, it wouldn’t past the Bechdel test, even if they are constantly fighting against the patriarchy. The film tackles a fair amount of topics and while it is great at detailing the symptoms, it lacks any real bite in examining the diseases. It’s hard to tell if some characters get their comeuppance when their faces are covered with masks. It can also be too blunt in getting its point across and seems to be revelling in the very toxicity that it is railing against. It is also probably too close to being what an old white film nerd thinks is cool. It is pretty cool though.
Considering the range of feelings it can emote in its run-time for one person, it is clearly going to be a film that thoroughly splits opinion. It is extremely stylistic and will either irk you or delight you. Love it or hate it, there is no way you will be bored.
James W. Anderson