Assassination Nation is one of those films that probably won’t do a massive amount of business at the box office but will slowly become a cult classic like the films that have inspired it. I was lucky enough to see a preview screening so here’s what I think of the film.
Set in the town of Salem (irony? I think not) the story follows 4 high-school friends: Lily (Odessa Young), Bex (Hari Nef), Em (Abra) and Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) who are living the carefree existence that Teenagers on their way to college enjoy, concerned with only the best Instagram filter or how many Tumblr followers they have. That all changes though and their dark secrets begin to haunt them.
At the start of the film there’s a list of trigger warnings including violence, rape (attempted), blood (sooo much blood), homophobia… I won’t go into them all but needless to say the list is fairly comprehensive and while the triggers listed at the start of the film do appear, it seems they’re acknowledged more as to satirise the way everyone prefaces every Tumblr post with “Trigger Warning” more than to indicate their real threat – after all, would you be watching this film if you were worried about the trigger list? I don’t think so.
Anyway, on to the plot.
Within the first 15 minutes, the tranquil life of Salem is turned upside down when it turns out that the Mayor (who ran on a family values ticket) is a cross-dressing sex pot who likes to photograph himself in ladies panties with his willy out. How do we know this? Someone hacked into his phone account and posted all of his saucy snaps online which are then quickly shared across the town thanks to the power of social media. The Mayor then decides that, instead of resigning like a normal person, he’ll blow his head off in front of a town meeting and from that point on all hell breaks loose.
During the next 45 minutes or so there’s lots of Sexting (sexy Whatsapping? SWapping? Maybe not) between Lily and someone in her contact list only known as “Daddy”, Bex is sexting someone on the football team and Sarah meets up with random blokes and takes photos – in fact the only normal person is Em (although her mother is not normal). There are also parties where kids get off their faces on drink and drugs and share it all to their Instas and Snapchats – so far, so youth of today.
Except the images between Lily and Daddy are leaked and after the death of the Mayor the town can’t deal with this. A literal witch hunt starts, mob mentality rules and the whole town decides to implode.
I can’t really say too much about the storyline as I’ll end up giving things away which I think you need to discover for yourself – the audience learns certain things as the sexts and images are released and it’s a nice twist that you don’t already have the inside scoop from the sleep-over-pillow-talk of the main characters that usually happens in a film like this.
What I will say though is that the last 45 minutes of this film is truly fucked up – I mean, you think you’ve seen a teen revenge film (à la Heathers)? You ain’t see nothing! That being said, it’s not as gory as the trailer would lead you to believe but that’s probably a good thing as this could have been a truly horrific film.
It certainly shines a light on the perils of putting too much information out there – and the fact that just because you’ve sent a saucy selfie to one person doesn’t mean that other people won’t have access to it in the future (think Jennifer Lawrence’s nude photo hack). With this film being an 18 though it’s missing the audience it should be aiming at – 15 year olds and under, but then the film wouldn’t have such and impact if it were watered down to suit this audience bracket.
This film definitely isn’t for everyone, it’s very dark and there’s little humour to be found – Mean Girls was essentially a satirical comedy and Heathers had a dark undercurrent of satirical humour. Assassination Nation is more of a “Hold a warped mirror up to society” kind of film and while it may seem unbelievable, considering some of the rallies that we’ve seen in the States recently, I personally don’t think it’s too far of a stretch for something like this to happen.
The film is well made, there’s a couple of nice directorial “gimmicks” that make you feel uncomfortable and yet draw you in and the editing is well paced, the soundtrack also matched well with the tone of the film but could have heightened the drama a little more. Overall it’s well put together considering its limited budget and while the box office is bound to be low given the controversial subject it’s going to be a sure fire classic on streaming services.
Watch this film if you’re looking for an alternative dystopian future that’s closer to home than you might think – just leave your phone alone so you don’t send incriminating tweets while watching it!