Director: Sam Levinson
Cast: Odessa Young, Hari Nef
Release date: Out now
Reviewer: Anna Wilczek
The first scene of Assassination Nation opens in a neighbourhood filled with Purge-like masked individuals as our narrator Lily (Odessa Young) presents a series of trigger warnings: abuse, nationalism, toxic masculinity, the male gaze… (you get the picture). Which brings us to the start of the story as to how her town “lost its mother f***ing mind”.
Sam Levinson’s second feature film subsequently follows Lily and her best friends Bex, Sarah and Em (Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse and Abra) as they go about their everyday teenage lives – discussing boys and sex, nonstop partying, strutting down the halls of their high school (in a way teens only do in the movies) – all the while documenting every little detail on social media. Once the ugly truth of everyone’s supposedly anonymous online antics are exposed through a data leak, the descent into madness begins as the townsfolk are forced to take responsibility for their actions… or, rather not, in the case of Assassination Nation.
Set in the small town of Salem, it’s no accident that there are direct parallels between the historical witch trials and the treatment of certain characters by a baying mob of (mainly) white cis males. Misogynists hide their faces to conceal identities, persecuting anyone who threatens their masculinity. A woman is violated for cheating on her boyfriend, being told that she “brought [it] on herself”. A man who has been unfaithful to his wife tells the object of his previous indiscretions that she ruined his life. A transgender character faces a lynching for engaging in a consensual sexual encounter with a male classmate.
The influence of the current social and political climate is clearly evident throughout. In fact, it’s impossible to view Assassination Nation without it. A climate in which young men are radicalised online, and Unite the Right rallies have become commonplace. The downfall of society and the chant of “Take Salem back!” feels all too real. 2018 has been an exciting time for female-led stories – from Coralie Fargeat’s Revenge to Steve McQueen’s Widows – with films showcasing heroines that are more than capable of rescuing themselves.
Levinson’s film presents a powerful rallying cry as the female characters unite and literally fire back against the patriarchy. But this is not a man-hating film. It’s a strong, feminist film about moral hypocrisy, female empowerment and gender equality directed by an exciting new talent.