Starring: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse
Director: Sam Levinson
Running Time: 110 mins
Assassination Nation is an American film that follows the events in the city of Salem after half the population’s personal details are hacked and leaked online, leading to total chaos and violence.
From the off, it’s clear that Assassination Nation won’t be for everyone, what with its hyper-stylised visuals, extremely dark humour, and its passionately political core message. However, while it’s not a film that manages to tie everything together perfectly, it is a hugely energetic and exciting watch throughout, with thrilling action and stunning visuals coupled with a riveting and terrifying story about contemporary culture.
One of the major issues with films like this being so forward, explicit and passionate, is that it can feel a little like provocation for provocation’s sake. In the opening act, the movie doesn’t quite manage to get you on board as it attempts to shock you with its explosion of energy from the very start, complete with all of the so-called ‘trigger warnings’ you could possibly imagine.
In that, it’s a movie that takes a little bit of getting used to, not least because of its heavily stylised cinematography and directing, however when things really do get going, it turns into a thoroughly exciting and entertaining watch.
Now, the film’s representation of the perils of the internet in the modern age is an exaggerated one, while it also pushes forward with an often hyper-feminist and strongly anti-misogynist vibe, but while that may come across as simply preachy in a lesser film, the brilliance of Assassination Nation is that it ties its more exaggerated elements in brilliantly with a stunning darkly comedic vibe, allowing it to remain an entertaining watch while still having a good amount of depth and intrigue.
Of course, the movie’s political leanings do make it a controversial one, but with the symbolism of its story inspired by witch hunts being set in Salem of all places, furthered by that exaggerated side of its major themes, are what make it work so well, and although it’s certainly a film that will divide audiences when it comes to its commentary on modern society, it’s one that works absolutely brilliantly as an out-and-out horror-thriller.
The first half is a riveting and very energetic social drama that places great focus on the uncontrollable dangers of the internet, hacking and waves of public anger, but it’s when the film takes a ridiculous step up in its second half that things get really exciting.
With that darkly comedic atmosphere running throughout, the preposterous extent to which the film pushes its story, and its symbolism of the political issues at its core, works brilliantly, and along with some stunning visuals that mix the thrills of cult horror cinema with a very modern kaleidoscope of colours, furthered by dynamic and thrilling camerawork across the board, it turns into an absolute riot of a film that I couldn’t take my eyes off for a second.
Director Sam Levinson does a brilliant job at bringing all those elements together, and as the dial ramps up to eleven over the course of the insane second half, the ever-growing tension and ever more chaotic story creates a palpable heartbeat and a relentless pace that makes Assassination Nation a non-stop thrill ride right to the end.
Another big positive comes in the form of the lead performance from Odessa Young, who plays a teenage girl who finds herself at the centre of the chaos unfolding in Salem. While the rebellious teen is a role we’ve seen for decades and decades now, Young does a fantastic job at both getting you on side with her modern streak, as well as having a good degree of self-awareness to make fun of her character and generation’s more ridiculous characteristics, something that plays in beautifully with the film’s comedy, and makes it an even more likable and exciting watch.
Of course, this film won’t be for everyone, and as well as its political message being a likely point of controversy in the eyes of some, plus its immensely explicit violence (although that works very well in the context of its giallo-style final act), I feel that the fact that it is so contemporary is something that will hurt it in the long run.
For the people of 2018, this is a film that speaks volumes on so many different levels, and that’s what makes it more than just an insane horror-thriller, but I do feel that it’s a film that will quickly become dated when new problems take hold and those represented here take more of a back seat. It still speaks about a range of important issues, but its extremely contemporary focus occasionally means it lacks a deeper, more general sense of humanity that would help it to retain relevance over the coming years.
With that said, however, I really liked Assassination Nation. It’s not an endlessly perfect film, and definitely not one everyone will take to, but with a passionate political core, furthered by brilliantly dark comedy, stunning visuals and direction, an excellent central performance, and a thrilling transition into all-out chaos in its second half, it’s an immensely entertaining watch that you just won’t be able to take your eyes off, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.9 overall.