Assassination Nation (2018)
Directed by: Sam Levinson
Premise: A suburban community gradually unravels as a mysterious hacker steals and leaks private data including social media messages and internet browsing histories. Four high school girls are caught in the middle of the controversy as it turns violent.
What Works: Assassination Nation is a violent satire. It draws from stories and scenarios we’ve seen in news and popular culture in which private images and messages are leaked to the public. This allows the filmmakers to literalize the ugliest aspects of online life such as the disingenuous outrage of moral crusaders piling upon scapegoated individuals. The film also displays the misogyny and homophobia of online life and the film specifically addresses the contrary expectations of women, who are simultaneously objectified for male desires and then castigated at the slightest hint of their own sexual agency. There are moments in the first two-thirds of Assassination Nation that are brilliant and the film wads up the ugly parts of our culture and throws them in the audience’s face. This picture is in touch with this particular cultural moment and that’s evident in the premise but also in the movie’s style and technique. The film has a Youtube aesthetic, especially early on, as it mashes together different images and filmmaking styles. Assassination Nation also has impressive use of sound. Music is placed well and the filmmakers use it to locate the story in this particular moment but also create a discord between the audio and the visuals that is distressing.
What Doesn’t: The first two-thirds of Assassination Nation are very good with the filmmakers demonstrating a grasp of contemporary youth culture and a savvy feel for the worst parts of online life. However, the conceit of Assassination Nation has one critical flaw. People say things online that they would never utter in public precisely because social media gives them anonymity and distance. In this film the characters lobby insults and threats in face-to-face physical spaces but the picture doesn’t address how the antisocial behavior leaps from digital platforms to real life. That flaw becomes a serious problem for Assassination Nation in its last third. The community turns violent and targets the quartet of young women. The film rushes into the violence, deliberately skipping ahead a week in the events. As a result, Assassination Nation feels like it is missing a critical section its story. Omitting the collapse of ordered society weakens the satire. The violence ought to feel outrageous and absurd but the shootout of the climax feels like something out of a stereotypical action picture. Assassination Nation’s other weak spot is its central characters. The actors do a good job, especially Odessa Young and Hari Nef, but they are too old to be playing teenagers and they come across more like college students than high schoolers. They also suffer from a lack of characterization. Satire can get away with characters who are just types but most of these people lack defining characteristics that would give them an identity and they are mostly passive participants in the story.
Bottom Line: Assassination Nation is an ambitious but uneven satire. There are sequences in this film that are terrific and subversive but the pacing is off and the filmmakers rush into the violence. It is nevertheless a bold and messy film with something intelligent to say about life in the social media era.
Episode: #718 (September 30, 2018)