You Really Did Ask For It, America
A review of Assassination Nation
Kelly M. Hudson
Is this the first Gen Z exploitation film? I dunno, but it sure feels like it, and if so, it feels pretty fucking good. The future looks bright, film-wise, at least.
Lily (played brilliantly by Odessa Young) and her three best friends (also brilliantly played by Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse, and Abra) are all 18 years old and coping with their last year of High School in small town Salem, when all holy hell gets unleashed. A hacker releases a torrent of information, leading to the outing of the town mayor (a staunch conservative who turns out to be lying about all of his “family values”) and the exposing of the high school principal to false accusations. In the midst of all of this, Lily and her friends are juggling teen life, which gets complicated by modern matters (sexuality, drugs, relationships—come to think of it, these are pretty timeless matters), all the while sticking close together as they navigate the pitfalls of a world they did not build. The hacker then releases information on nearly everyone in town, and through a twisted series of machinations, Lily gets blamed for being the hacker, and the entire town turns against her and her close friends. This is where the movie gets compared to The Purge (and it’s apt, considering the masks and all of that) and the high school stuff gets compared to Heathers (also fair). But this is an updating of Heathers, in its own way, and it far exceeds that film in political scope and reach. Much like The Purge films, it holds a mirror up to our society today and not only finds it lacking, but dirty and culpable and very, very ugly. The girls have to fight for their lives, and the bloodletting begins.
First, let me say, this is a highly political film. It doesn’t look kindly on conservatives and those espousing “Family Values.” If that’s you, this is a movie that’s going to flat-out insult you. But guess what? It’s not unwarranted. Mostly, this is a film for the so-called freaks. You know who you are. The marginalized, the geeks, the “sluts” and “whores” and everyone with a sexual identity that isn’t considered “normal.” This is a love-letter to a generation that’s coming up in a confused and divided and, again, ugly world. It’s full of violence, cursing, sex, teenage abandon, and wildness. This movie does not pull any punches. When Nef’s transsexual character Bex says, “I’m not a bitch, I’m a feminist,” you better bet the movie backs that sentiment up. There is no flinching here, no stepping down. This movie practically declares war on the older generations. And you know what? That’s pretty fucking cool. It’s nice to see a film with some unflinching guts.
One thing that I think might get overlooked in all the explosions and hype and glitz and horror, is the fact that filmmaker Sam Levinson manages to not just portray the “villains” in the movie in a totally black and white fashion. There’s an almost unnerving scene featuring the outed mayor as he stands alone in a hallway before going out for his first press conference after his exposure. You feel really sorry for him, and considering what comes next, that empathy is warranted. But, just like everything else in this film, things are pretty complicated. This is followed by an interesting debate between Lily and Bex in which Lily kind of expresses my point of view, and Bex does that of those that have been thoroughly fucked over by people like the mayor. This is dynamic writing and directing and the acting is top-notch. In fact, all of the monologues that Lily has are just as interesting as they are inflammatory. Lily shares the truth, how she sees it in her eyes, and the fact that most of society can’t understand that is one of the reasons we live in such divided times. This really does feel like a generational war. And the movie captures the riot of clashes ideologies in a unique and captivating way.
Assassination Nation is a middle finger, a punch to the teeth, a giant “Fuck You” to the forces of oppression and control. This is a group of teens who won’t be boxed in, defined, or made to behave, and this is a film that captures all of that sentiment and throws it right in your face. This is your future, America, and you surely did ask for it.
4 stars out of 4