When a film begins by rattling through a list of trigger warnings, you know you’re in for a wild ride and some aspects will likely sit uncomfortably with people making them #triggered, as the youths now say but if you can stomach everything from nasty slurs to torture then you won’t be disappointed.
In the town of Salem, four young friends share almost every secret. Lily (Odessa Young) has her own sordid private life which could become extremely public as a run of hacks hit the people of the town, from political figures to cheerleaders. It isn’t long until Salem is swept up by a hysteria and these four girls are its target.
Now, this visceral flick comments that it is a “1000% true story”, which it isn’t but the satirical elements which elevate to crazy heights could easily be perceived as based on true events what with the screen-obsessed world we currently live in. Sam Levinson, on only his second feature film is someone to watch because this is a bold, exploitative movie with a lot to say. There is a whole mound of style layered over the simple story of personal truths spilling over to be accessed information by all.
For a while this is a movie which looks like a red, white and blue tinged frat dream; almost a bubblegum start which greatly and swiftly pops like dynamite. It’s a revenge film ripe for our times, pumping with violence, social dramatics and a soundtrack which pulsates through you. It’s easy to say this is a film revelling in blood and shock but in fact it’s an engrossing cautionary tale of how affected by social media we are, how hear say is damaging and the struggles of what people expect of us can boil over. These themes are massively relevant and perfectly handled in a neat black comedy/thriller.
If you saw ‘Revenge’ earlier in the year, then this is a film that reminds you of the vengeful attack demonstrated by Coralie Fargeat. There’s a similar aggression soaking the narrative and amped up camera tricks and shots construct a blistering treat for the eyes. A smooth one-shot sequence which follows the red coated gals from outside a house is exceptional in terms of craft and building tension, more than this it works fantastically by making us voyeurs, the very people this film is right to judge.
It isn’t only voyeurism which is barbed, the fragile male ego from the outset is listed as an oncoming point for the film and this dangerous weapon is definitely shown off. On top of this there is the very real problem of mob mentality which is utilised within the later stages of the film and would do enough to scare off ‘The Purge’ inhabitants. These alarming issues are brilliantly opposed by the actors playing the teenage women. Odessa Young is front and centre and is a force to be reckoned with as she stands strong, even when torn apart by those around her.
Surely it’s no happy coincidence that Levinson sets this blood-fuelled story in Salem. The electrically charged events, mirror the witch trials from 326 years ago. The friends are damaged and headhunted by technology and townsfolk with no morals or thought process. Their own trial is as utterly useless to survive against unless they rise up. The female empowerment may be through thinly drawn characters but it’s evident and makes for a powerful final image before the credits appear.
‘Assassination Nation’ has some obvious story moments but there’s plenty of black humour and unsettling madness in a superb pulpy exhilarating show, one that wakes you up to the climate against women and rings social media alarm bells.