Review: Assassination Nation

Sam Levinson’s brutal spin on the Salem witch trials is a very, very mixed bag.

Assassination Nation starts as a garish commentary on internet and teenage culture in the era of the smartphone before turning into a blood-soaked frenzy of violence and hatred in its final 50 minutes.

Levinson takes the Salem witch trials of the 1690s and puts them in a 21st century context, with the witchcraft being a computer hack that the police hopelessly misunderstand, and the falsely accused once again the teenage girls of the city.

The first hour primarily follows four of these teenage girls, mainly Lily (Odessa Young), who is brazenly outspoken and chic.

She strolls round in Fatal Attraction socks and frequently sexts an older man labelled as ‘Daddy’ in her phone.

She can be summarised by her monologue to the principal about why the pornographic drawings in her notebook are appropriate to the school environment, which goes down as well as you would expect.

She’s essentially the human embodiment of a 15-year-old’s Tumblr blog in 2013.

Lily is accompanied by her girl friends Bex (Hari Nef), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) and Em (Abra). They’re very similar to Lily, they all party together and share seemingly every detail of their lives, much to Lily’s boyfriend Mark’s (Bill Skarsgård) annoyance.

The havoc begins when Mayor Bartlett’s (Cullen Moss) laptop is hacked, revealing him to be a cross-dressing homosexual despite his anti-LGBTQ+ politics.

After a spate of further hackings most of Salem’s populations personal data is available to everyone, causing mass hysteria in the north coast city.

This is where the action comes in, as the film devolves into a glorious cabaret of blood, gore and hyper-violence. I’ve seen many reviews comparing this film to The Purge franchise, and frankly this is offensive to Assassination Nation.

Whilst there are the obvious similarities in the idea of everyday citizens going barbaric for a night, this film offers so much more.

It mounts a genuine stance challenging patriarchy, rape culture, LGBTQ+ issues and more – as oppose to the vaguely touched upon anti government message in the early Purge films (2018’s The First Purge is a lot more on the nose).

In his modernising of the witch trials, he manages to actually understand and poke fun at internet culture succesfully, unlike most screenwriters who get it horrifically wrong, a prime example being the horrific “what are those?” gag in Black Panther.

There are some beautiful shots throughout the film, especially as chaos reigns, with the constant use of red imagery suggesting danger at every turn.

The camera work is fantastic for the most part, especially during a home invasion scene later in the film, where the lens floats round the exterior of the house, much like the model home cuts in Hereditary.

The girls are brutal as they reclaim their right to sexual liberation – shooting, stabbing and slicing their way through the city’s populace.

And as the credits rolls, we get a marching bands rendition of We Can’t Stop by Miley Cyrus, with its apt lyric: “Can’t you see it’s we who own the night”, and these girls certainly do.

Assassination Nation was screened at HOME in a preview as part of ‘Film Fear’, ran by Film 4 and is released in the UK on November 23.

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