Rating: 4 out of 5 (excellent)
In the aptly named town of Salem, Lily and her three teenage friends feel the brunt of a witch trial as the town’s online secrets are exposed. Assassination Nation is a pleasant surprise which should not be judged by its surface. Suggested by trailers to be an exploitation flick excused by light social commentary, Assassination Nation is actually a damning warning against our internet age.
For all of us, the internet has become our true reality just like the characters of Assassination Nation. The internet is used by Salem’s townsfolk as a facade and the bearer of their dirty secrets. Yet by imprinting both their good and bad aspects online, Salem’s inhabitants risk the wrath of others if their whole selves are ever revealed.
Once the accounts of Salem’s inhabitants are hacked and displayed to the world, the internet ceases to be a haven and becomes a cannibalistic monster as each leak is eaten up by others online. What follows is a vicious cycle of scandal, victimisation and vigilantism as Salem descends into mob rule. Salem’s spiral, both online and in the real world, invokes the perfidiousness of social media. Akin to the events of Assassination Nation, users of YouTube, Twitch and Instagram have risen to fame only to fall and become fodder for the very same platforms.
Mimicking the hyper sexuality displayed across the internet, Lily and her friends reflect the new male gaze. They are openly praised both in person and online for their clothing and being sexually free until it stops suiting men. Once the hacks are released and Salem turns sour, there are uncomfortable scenes as the male dominated mob shame the leading girls. Although difficult to watch, these moments push viewers to honestly consider how men treat women online.
Despite plenty of humour, the highly affected teenage dialogue of Assassination Nation’s young cast, alongside their near constant revelry, is a complete caricature. Looking back as I watched the film, my teenage years were deathly bland by contrast. Maybe I lacked the confidence, money or freedom for teenage misadventure, but even the ‘cooler’ kids at my school were tame compared to Assassination Nation. The glaringly unrealistic behaviour and conversations of Assassination Nation’s youngsters can plunge the viewer back into disbelief.
Weaknesses in director Sam Levinson’s script is compensated by the visual aspects of his story telling. Simple effects, alongside perfectly timed scores and selected songs, add a resonance to events and Lily’s narrative monologues. The screen ribbons into separate columns as teenagers broadcast their personas online during a party. Once the hacks destabilise the town the camera inverts during a long take of a cheerleader rehearsal. The huge American flag in the rehearsal’s background then appears upside down. The flag’s re-positioning is a military signal symbolising that Salem and perhaps the country itself are in distress.
Viewers expecting extensive performances from Bill Skarsgård and Bella Thorne will be disappointed with their brief appearances compared to Assassination Nation’s trailers. Odessa Young is compellingly candid as lead character Lilly but my personal favourite was Hari Nef as transgender student Bex. Bex’s story arc was the most human in Assassination Nation’s manic world.
By Saul Shimmin
For the trailer, see below: