Assassination Nation

Movie Information

The Story: When an entire town's text and browsing history is hacked and leaked, the girl suspected to be behind it all is targeted. The Lowdown: An ultra-violent ode to rape culture masquerading as a feminist manifesto.
Genre: Internet Apocalypse Horror
Director: Sam Levinson
Starring: Suki Waterhouse, Abra, Odessa Young, Hari Nef
Rated: R

One of my biggest pet peeves is dishonesty from a director. Whatever else you think of names such as Godard, Tarantino or Korine, they’re filmmakers who have always been exactly who they are and tailored their films accordingly. I use those names because, for better or worse — no, for worse, consistently for worse — Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation tries to one-up each of them but only succeeds at making me by turns wish I was watching one of their films or swearing off watching films altogether. I picture Levinson, sprinting headlong towards all the grand philosophical lessons he’s trying to impart to us, getting a rake to the face each time and then turning around and screaming, “I meant to do that! I like rakes to the face!” No, Sam. You don’t.

It’s okay — welcome, even — to make a violent film in order to comment on violence. It’s okay to do that with any subject, really. But what doesn’t work is when your director is clearly just really into looking at teenage girls’ bodies, mostly naked, covered in blood, begging for a much older man to use them for sex. That’s not a comment; it just is what it is. Likewise, you don’t get points for casting a trans actress when you’re just going to turn around and sling trans slurs with no hint that it’s not okay to do that.

Assassination refuses to even try going any deeper than it at first states it wants to, settling instead for a “cool” (lazy) opening montage of all the most extreme footage to come, complete with a “Trigger Warning” attached to it. Good one, Sam. We get it. You’re trying to make The Rules of Attraction or something, a film that, while brilliant and subversive for its time, has not aged all that well. This film already feels horribly dated by comparison.

Or is Levinson baiting us? Trying to weed out those who can’t stomach this kind of cinematic monstrosity from the bros who think it’s just all in good fun? Fine. I’ll take the bait and offer a trigger warning of my own. This is a film that features the torture and attempted murder of a trans teenage girl, who is then allowed to offer the line “Thanks for not murdering me… I guess,” to her assailant without the film offering back any hint of irony or empathy for all that this scenario implies on the part of the filmmakers. It’s an ugly moment in a film full of them. Likewise, we get plenty of jiggling teenage bodies to ogle while at the same time getting lip service to how we shouldn’t be doing that. Or… is it okay to do that? The film can’t decide, and instead lets just about everybody off the hook all at once. See? All in good fun. No harm done.

You can have a movie where girls run around in cool skimpy outfits murdering everybody. You can even let them be sexually active and drinking and smoking and taking nude selfies the whole time. Just please have a point. Assassination revels just a little too giddily during the buildup to all its professed girl-power chaos of a finale, lingers a little too long, gets off on the very things it wants us to be disgusted by. Juiced in or not, you’d think the son of the director of Wag the Dog would’ve picked up on a little something called “satire.” Rated R for disturbing bloody violence, strong sexual material including menace, pervasive language and drug and alcohol use — all involving teens.

Now playing at Carolina Cinemark and Regal Biltmore Grande. 


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3 thoughts on “Assassination Nation

  1. Post-Punk Monk

    Eeccchh! This sounds like the foulest, most potentially tone-deaf excuse for a film this year. It pains me to know how badly people want to act in films which makes such exploitative garbage as this possible. It’s one thing for a writer or director to be obviously feeding their own fetishes. That’s generally what artists unconsciously [or sometimes not] often do. It’s quite another for hundreds of people to comply with these conditions for a paycheck or a taste of fame. That is a sad shame.

    • Francis X. Friel

      I hear what you’re saying, but I’m not sure anyone flipping burgers at McDonalds have the manager’s year-end bonus in mind when they clock in for each shift. I don’t begrudge any cast or crew their paychecks. Their job is just to make sure the directors and producers get what they need. The blame belongs to the director. I’d generously guess that he miscalculated the total effect of this project if I hadn’t seen it for myself. Besides, the cast is uniformly good, for whatever that’s worth at this point.

      • John Sephton

        I profoundly disagree with every single point you have made. I watched this last night and found it poignant and timely. I’d argue that your main issue seems to the film’s use of “jiggling teenage bodies to ogle at” whilst telling us we shouldn’t do just that. That’s not what I got from it at all. To simplify the message to this level is completely missing the point. Almost to the extent that I think you may be exactly the kind of person who Levinson is trying to reach.

        The wardrobe of the characters has been chosen for a reason. Why is it important that they wear such short shorts or tight tops? Because it’s not. Their clothing is irrelevant. It doesn’t mean they should be subjected to violent, threatening, degrading and shaming abuse. We, the viewer, need to make that same connection.

        You see to believe it was made as mere exploitative titillation, whereas I think there’s a powerful toxic masculinity message at its heart. A far superior indie schlock revenge movie than Mandy. Plus, being made for the #metoo generation I hope it genuinely resonates with teens. In a few years when my daughter is 15 or so, I’ll show this to her and like Captain Marvel did last month, I’m sure she’ll gain some strength. The world is a shit place for girls right now. I welcome anything to help her defend herself in the future. This just adds to that pool of resources. It’s by no means perfect, but it’s definitely not exploitative.

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