The last few years has seen a good run of socially aware movies for the masses, and this latest directorial effort from Sam Levinson holds a mirror up to modern masculinity and society as a whole. But will Assassination Nation‘s message ring true, or is it doomed to the dustbin of history?
“You asked for it, America” is the tagline across Assassination Nation‘s posters, and after having seen the movie, there’s no question of what the minds behind that line meant. There are films that are products of their time, and it’s clear from frame one that Assassination Nation has something to say about the current state of things.
The film is at its core a modern retelling of the Salem Witch Trials, literally taking place in the iconic Massachusetts town. Instead of accusations of dabbling in the occult however, the fingers here are pointing at the private lives of the town’s inhabitants after a mass phone hacking leaks all manner of texts, pictures and other salacious details.
As more details are released and consumed by the masses, the wilder they get, until all of Salem descends into a full-blown hellscape with masked vigilantes, lynch mobs and corrupt police officers stalking the streets.
To nobody’s surprise, it’s the straight white men that are the most keen to carry out vigilante justice on Salem’s streets. For each target they pursue there is an attempt at rationalising the chase with some act of ignominy – most notably one character’s ownership of a photo album and browsing history leads to the strongest accusation in the film, but without any hint of a trial – least of all a fair one.
From the first leak though, it’s clear that the real intentions of those taking action aren’t on a moral mission, but are instead on a crusade to establish their dominance over minorities that would dare to count themselves independent equals in this day and age.
Of course, that platform isn’t to be given up without a fight, which brings us to our main characters. These are young women, far from meek, naive or innocent in any way, and definitely not the type to be happy waiting for Prince Charming to rescue them. At no point are any of our protagonists without agency, and each of them feel like entirely believable, fleshed out characters.
The biggest shout-outs go to Odessa Young and Hari Nef, who carry the hardest moments of the film between them and handle them with aplomb. No matter how well Assassination Nation performs overall, make no doubt that these two actresses will be forces to be reckoned with down the line.
It’s not an easy watch by any stretch, and some of the imagery is very much designed to upset one particular segment of modern American society – anyone proclaiming that Blue Lives Matter, and people keen to wear campaign slogans on red caps might want to give this one a miss. As American politics becomes increasingly hostile to many of its civilians, this is the revenge fantasy that a lot of people will want or need.
There are deeper messages at play here too, most significantly about the hypocrisy of the film’s public shaming movement and how that reflects on society today. There’s a moment when a white guy is implicated in a scandal, and such as life imitates art, it’s the woman who suffers the brunt of the wrath.
It’s a really interesting moment and one that would carry enough substance for a whole feature on its own. Here though, it’s lost a little in the bloodshed and chaos, and while the film definitely wants to say a lot about the state of things, its primary interest is more in line with the aforementioned violent wish fulfilment. That’s no bad thing though, and to be honest this may end up being one of my favourite films of this year.
Assassination Nation is neither big nor clever, but it’s an essential movie made with anger for angry times. The answers that Assassination Nation suggest to the problems it depicts may not be entirely palatable, but as the film reaches its climax and punchline, one can’t help but get a similar feeling as BlacKkKlansman inspired, that maybe getting angry isn’t such a bad idea these days.