There is nothing quite like a film trying to front as a female empowerment tale that constantly leers at its young stars and is directed by a man to set off my bullshit meter. Assassination Nation wants desperately to be an exposé on social media, teen culture, and America's violent nature. It is none of those things. It is a message movie whose message is constantly undercut by its non-stop violence and sex. I doubt there will be a more annoying film this year (please let me be right about this).
The film opens with a trigger warning, declaring its desire to shock and provoke. There will be swearing, nudity, rape, homophobia and more. It then soon claims to be a thousand percent true. Assassination Nation screams at its audience, warning them they will be offended. This is never a good sign. It wants to quickly take shots at the uncool, the conservatives, in some sort of perceived culture war that it aims to comment on.
The plot follows a group of high school babes in Salem. It took me most of the film to confirm this is the witch Salem and not the one in Oregon. Lily (Odessa Young) and her friends live their life online, except when parading around high-school wearing fetish porn clothing. The communicate in meme-style provocations. Lily is caught between her boyfriend (Bill Skarsgard) and an older man whom she sexts with named "Daddy." Lily is a bright student with a desire to titillate with every action. Early on she is brought into the principal's office for drawing images of women masturbating. In her defense, she launches into a monologue about how her art stands against the patriarchy and reveals the pressures of perfection women feel. The principal tells her she is brilliant in a line of dialogue that feels like the writer/director Sam Levinson congratulating himself on his own writing.
The film's plot shifts when someone leaks the whole towns internet and mobile histories. Soon the town devolves into a Purge-like chaos and everyone wants to kill Lily, whom they think did it. If the film was unbelievable in its first half that tries to expose the horrors of teen life, then the second half is even less plausible.
Assassination Nation assaults the viewer with an excess of style. There is a copious amount of split-screen used that serves little point that to be stylish. The same is true of the impressive but empty long takes that Levinson employs. There are talented people working on this film but the screenplay is so empty and vile that none of it serves to make the film better.
The film's weak social commentary is derivative. Asassination Nation plays like the polar opposite of this year's Eight Grade. That film shows the realities of social media on teen life with a big heart and an honest voice. Assassination Nation takes away all of that sincerity and replaces it with a teenage boy's idea of depth and commentary. The film desperately wants to preach about the patriarchal society we live in and aims to be feminist. However, this completely fails as the camera lingers on every inch of exposed skin of these females. I can't help but wonder how much better this could have been if directed by a women. There is just something so disingenuous about the film's goals here.
Desperate to be edgy and profound, Assassination Nation is just profoundly annoying. It is in love with its own provocative nature but lacks any depth for any of it to mean anything. It reminded me of the far superior Spring Breakers. That film had a clear-eyed perspective and a point. This film has neither. It is quite simply one of the worst films of the year.