From director Sam Levinson comes a dark comedy thriller set in Salem, Massachusetts when a hacker unleashes many of the population’s secrets and the chaos that ensues as a result with the four female teenage protagonists at the centre. A combination of a teen drama and The Purge, Assassination Nation gives an interesting take regarding online personas and how much we put of ourselves and through digital communication when intended to be private or anonymous. That combined with the downright insanity that the town is driven to in the final act and how it affects these four women, the name isn’t a coincidence but overall was a surprisingly fun and enjoyable movie with a well delivered message about the internet and sexism just below the surface of drama and madness that ensues.
The film follow Lily (Odessa Young) an 18 year old along with best friends Bex (Hari Nef), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) and Em (Abra) over a two week period approximately navigating high school. You see the characters and friends and family before the hacks. We see and hear the significance of digital devices and the internet with the characters in their daily lives as the hacking happens to individuals and their responses along with friends and family but then half of Salem has their private data released affecting everyone to some degree. The impact this has results in Salem devolving with paranoia, fear and anger boiling over into madness and pandemonium when Lily is accused of being the hacker and so she and her friends are hunted by the town.
The main character of the movie is Lily and as a result she gets the majority of the focus. The character is written as a bit of a cliché but Odessa Young’s portrayal added depth with her struggles with parents, her boyfriend Mark and life around school. Notably during a fight with Mark, a voice over narration from Young is well delivered in sync with the physical motions of the Lily and Mark as the argue giving more weight to the scene and more depth to Lily. She is also the only one of the four women that sticks for the people hacked before the mass hack and so the conduit for illuminating some of the sexism of the film.
Sadly not all of the characters are as developed with Sarah and Em getting no backstory or character development at all except for Em being raised by a single mother. This was really disappointing for the core group of friends as it led to not being worried for them or anything much at all unfortunately. Bex however did get some character development and backstory. Except when it was directly relevant to plot, I really enjoyed the fact that Bex being born male but identifying as female wasn’t overstated. There were no signs that she was any less accepted at school or with her friends and even gets a love interest with Diamond, one of the school’s male football team. This along with Nicole Maines as a main cast member in Supergirl is a strong time for transgender people especially women being represented in mainstream media.
The film revolves around people’s personal data being put online for the world to see and the aftermath that comes with it. This is done in an interesting way because it shows the attitude of the internet in general with not directly seeing of feeling the impact you are desensitised almost or judge without having all the information be it the cross dressing politician or the educator with photos of his daughter in the bath which we see with the characters. One aspect I really enjoyed is how when the mass hack portrays behaviour in real life like stereotypical internet users e.g. calling women sluts and insulting women as if the photos etc. give them an invitation to do so.
When it gets very much like The Purge, townspeople are attacking others in public like car parks and begin wearing masks, even young children, for anonymity which they no longer feel they have online. One of the secondary characters both encapsulates the impact on high school girls and the overall violence is when we see Grace (Maude Apatow) slowly seethe with anger over leaked texts revealing her best friend Reagan (Bella Thorne) was the one who shared nude photos of Grace over school. Then Grace snaps, goes to Reagan and brutally hits her with a metal baseball bat and when arrested is treated with applause by other students. Assassination Nation does make you think about the sexism feeding this part of the film but the message in a video made by Lily as a call to arms did have it’s message a little muddled with exposition with its message but did give a voice to what the film brought up so far with how women are treated.
The final act when the four young women are pursued when suspected of the data reveal gets really dark and gets into the hysteria and almost literal witch hunt the town is famous for but without any trials. Levinson does well to bring out strong performances from Odessa Young and Hari Nef with their respective plights as Lily and Bex struggle, again Sarah and Em given little to do in this part of the film. Once free thanks to a single kind soul and a very clever improvised weapon and coming across an arsenal of weapons the film takes a turn to being comical in this dark thriller. The four teenagers are united and unafraid at this point and want to end the madness and get a little payback. This is epitomised with a shootout scene with a group of masked people who previously were about to execute one of the group. Using way too many bullets, the women put an end to this small mob. When faced a single unmasked enemy and classmate of the group, he apologises and begs for mercy as opposed to before when he was masked and among a crowd. The ending was predictable and all but confirmed when you know Lily didn’t do it but when the hacker is revealed and says why it was done that also was disappointing and either indicative of what adults think of teenagers or accurate of teenagers depending how you look at it.
Overall I did really enjoy Assassination Nation and while some of the school and house party scenes were a little grating I would chalk that up to being well out of my teenage years. The rest of the film did give an interesting and watchable portrayal of high school students and how much of their lives is influenced by the internet from texting to social media. It goes on to demonstrate how much of ourselves we put online and use it as a mask for other aspects of ourselves and how people are judged without context. A dark version of Clueless meets The Purge, Assassination Nation is an entertaining film that does well with Young and Nef on the surface but delivers a strong message despite it’s end reveal. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to delete my internet history.