One thing you can say about the new, frantically now coming-of-age story/thriller/blood-spattered horror flick Assassination Nation: At least it starts promisingly. Satirical, gory, visually bold, bursting with energy, it's a would-be midnight-movie spin on the infamous Salem witch trials and Arthur Miller’s classic play The Crucible.
But writer-director Sam Levinson (screenwriter of The Wizard of Lies, directed by his famous father Barry) also kicks off his frenzied, kick-out-the-jams movie with satiric “trigger” warnings to sensitive viewers by flashing quick moments of horrors yet to come: near-rape, torture, homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism, toxic bro-ism and a gang of other non-P.C.-isms. It’s a corny, jokey hustle meant to remind us of the stunts out of those old-school, gimmicky, exploitation horror flicks—“$1000 in case of death by fright during the showing!” “Keep telling yourself, ‘It’s a only a movie, it’s only a movie …’” It feels like a cheap brag of the kind almost never delivered upon. (Of course, those who are actually triggered might have entirely different reactions.)
The town’s good citizens quickly devolve into a pack of mad, snarling dogs, intent on hunting down the avenging cyber culprit—almost any culprit. When our four heroines become prime targets, chaos ensues, much of it queasy and deeply unsettling. Everyone in the hellish town harbors a dark secret or two, but because the movie doesn’t bother to make them feel human, few of them seem worth saving or caring about. In its second half, Assassination Nation goes full-throttle nuts. After hard-to-take scenes of the women being physically and verbally battered, they fight back. Expect cheap, unearned cheers from the audience.
Assassination Nation so desperately wants to rock, shock and offend that it’s like an attention-starved adolescent scribbling obscenities on a bathroom wall while the principal’s watching.
The movie—which loses focus as it goes along—so desperately wants to rock, shock and offend that it’s like an attention-starved adolescent scribbling obscenities on a bathroom wall while the principal’s watching. The director wants to have it both ways—to be pushy and transgressive while he winks reassuringly and seems to say, "Don’t worry, we’re on the side of the angels here." Assassination Nation may or may not be your thing, but the talent on display is apparent, and the movie, warts and all, is a tough one to shrug off.
- Hard to ignore
- Loses steam—and its message—as it goes on