In its 110-minute runtime Assassination Nation covers as much depressing, violent and timely content as your local cable news channel covers in a week. You see all of these topics and issues from the perspective of high school students with the infinite power of the internet and social media at their command. There are scenes in this film where the screen is split in three sections as separate events happening at once, some of which are Snapchat and Instagram videos. No matter your generation, there’s a possibility it will make even you feel out of touch.
The film follows four high school girls living in Salem, Massachusetts when people in their community begin to get hacked. Slowly there are private pictures, videos, browsing history and texts leaked to everyone in town, starting with the mayor and quickly spreads to school officials, police, and other students. The internet is soon full of exposed secrets, crimes, affairs and more dirty laundry than people can handle. No one is safe, and no one is excused from the wrath and pain of others. The story quickly goes from realistic and highly possible to something that looks like if Mean Girls took place during the Purge series.
Director/writer Sam Levinson has a very unique style that shifts throughout the films run-time. The first third of this film looks pretty average and is shot like any other high school film is today. We then see very abstract scenes both visually and musically, particularly during the party scenes. And then there’s a hard cut where the film turns into an insane action movie. It’s interesting to see the film evolve as the tone gets darker, but some of these sudden shifts were a bit distracting and overwhelming.
One of the main themes of the film is perception, as actress Odessa Young breaks down for her school principal near the beginning of the film with an argument over a drawing of a nude woman being considered sexual or natural. At first glance, Assassination Nation is a look into the everyday lives of today’s high school students and all of the challenges and obstacles they face. You could also say that this film is a PSA about how dangerous and not secure the internet can be. Or is it a commentary on the state of our society today and its impact on teenagers?
The blaring metaphor is the Salem witch trials, beyond the films main, deliberate setting. Whenever someone’s information is put on display to the community they are put in front of an angry mob of angry citizens who scream the person’s wrongdoings at them. The film goes even deeper by showing how brutal and lasting the internet can be to those who are exposed.
Stepping away from the film’s content, the cast was surprising and well picked. The four leads were fantastic and made their roles effortless, sharing a real lived in chemistry. Bill Skarsgard and Joel McHale gave fantastic performances playing the biggest scumbags imaginable. Bella Thorne, Maude Apatow and Colman Domingo also provided brief yet fulfilling performances.
Assassination Nation is going to anger and shock some, checking off every box in the “What’s wrong in world today?” category without apology. Hacking is a very real and serious problem in our world today and what occurs in this film can and does happen in real life. This is by no means the best movie of the year and at times is a bit of a mess visually, but it makes you think and doesn’t pull its punches where it counts.