Assassination Nation
Courtesy: Neon


Bella Thorne's 'Assassination Nation' Is Bloody and Bonkers

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.

Early on, its heroine Lily (a terrific Odessa Young) announces, “This is the story of how my town, Salem, lost its motherfucking mind.” As if they're in an updated Heathers, Lily's the alpha female of three other partying, texting, Instagramming, healthily sexed-up best-friend school kids (who include an excellent Hari Nef, plus Suki Waterhouse and Abra, the latter two undercut by undercooked roles).

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.) 
Levinson’s setup is simple. Salem loses its motherfucking mind over a phantom hacker who begins small by isolating and exposing a victim or two, then progressing to spilling the intimate, incriminating digital beans on big chunks of the hypocritical hamlet’s population. A vicious, socially prominent homophobe gets outed as a perv. Lily, for instance, has been two-timing her boyfriend (Bill Skarsgard) and sending hot selfies to the older daddy next door (Joel McHale). Her trans female pal Bex (Hari Nef) has sex with a football player (Danny Ramirez), a lout who insists they keep their hookup on the down-low, so his fellow jocks won’t find out.

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.

Levinson, aided by gifted cinematographer Marcell Rev, shows himself to be quite a visual and aural stylist, pummeling the viewer with everything but the kitchen sink. Split screens. Eye-popping visual palettes. Operatic, surrealistic pacing and performances, and a gore and splatter level that suggests what might happen if a Brian De Palma operating at a Carrie level had tackled a Purge flick. In the end, Assassination Nation may not exactly be pro-feminist, anti-social media or about anything at all, but it so stylish, breathless and hopped-up that you get swept along, occasionally absorbing its vague, mushy comments on institutionalized misogyny, mob mentality and the perils of social media transparency.

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. 

Assassination Nation

Hard to ignore
Loses steam—and its message—as it goes on
Rating: 2.5 out of 4 bunnies

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