Written by: Adriana Gomez-Weston, CC2K Staff Writer
Do you ever really think about the contents of your phone or your computer? Do you have any dark secrets among your photos, search history, videos, or text messages? If all of your personal information was exposed to the world, would you have something to worry about? It’s frightening to think that with a couple keyboard strokes and within a few short minutes, your entire life can be destroyed.
In his latest film Assassination Nation, director and writer Sam Levinson taps into the nightmares of the Instagram and Snapchat generation. As the film opens, audiences are greeted with a trigger warning, which prefaces an hour and a half of pure chaos. A modern witch hunt set in the town of Salem, all hell breaks loose when a hacker exposes the dirty secrets of Salem’s residents. A wicked delight, Assassination Nation is a bloody thrill ride for the digital age. The film was well-received on the festival circuit, first at Sundance, and then during the Midnight Madness showcase in Toronto.
Fueled by feminist rage, Assassination Nation is the flavor of film that might be an acquired taste for some, but a delicious guilty pleasure for others. It’s a story that’s polarizing, sure to leave its viewers both elated and enraged. However critics feel about it, it’s bound to become a cult classic. A neon-soaked nightmare with pretty people, mad style, and wacky behavior, Assassination Nation is sure to be immortalized by the very demographic it criticizes.
Among the moral decay of Salem, four teenage girls are caught in the crossfires of destruction. Lily (Odessa Young), Bex (Hari Nef), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), and Em (Abra) are no angels, but they embrace their truths as women with their own agency. At first glance, Assassination Nation embodies the Lolita trope, complete with short shorts, lollipops, heart-shaped glasses and all. Luckily for the audience, the four leads are whip smart, fierce, and actively fight against male expectations. Lily, the film’s main protagonist appears to be like any teenage girl, except she’s completely aware of not only her power as a woman, but the system set up to dismantle that power. Throughout the film Lily wrestles with the endless standards set for her, and even juggles two different relationships. Lily encounters an emotional tug of war with her aggressive boyfriend Mark (Bill Skarsgård), and maintains a relationship entirely of sexts with a mysterious older man.
Secrets are buried, and charades continue as usual until a mysterious hacker begins to target Salem’s residents. The first victim is the town’s mayor, an opponent to LGBT rights and a proponent of “family values”. The leaked information reveals that behind closed doors, he hired male escorts and dressed in women’s lingerie. One by one, the hacker exposes the town’s residents, causing widespread panic and hysteria. After Lily’s sexual escapades are leaked online, Lily is blamed for the entire hack itself. After the revelation, Salem’s police and citizens rally to find Lily and her friends so they can purge the small town of its “problem”.
Assassination Nation skewers the hypocrisy that exists in America. It proves that to many, there is nothing more fearsome than a woman who recognizes her power. We ask a woman to stay quiet, but then ask why she didn’t speak up. We want women to be pure, but we also want a whore. We want a woman to be meek, but we still expect her to be strong. Lily, Bex, Sarah, and Em aren’t truly guilty of anything except being themselves. That is what Salem takes issue with. The police didn’t have a real cause for attempting to murder the girls, and no one else seemed to question if the claims were legitimate. Were the residents of Salem trying to absolve themselves of any guilt and wash their hands of the very reminders of their own misdeeds?
Described by some as a satire, Assassination Nation depicts a harrowing truth about where our society is headed. We live in a nation where sex sells, yet Puritanical values continue to persuade the “righteous”. Over time, we’ve become desensitized to the violence occurring online and the harm it causes. Through this conundrum, social media has brought out the worst humanity has to offer. While our society is quick to put women on a pedestal, it’s also quick to nail its women to a crucifix from the sins of its own design. Assassination Nation urges audiences to do a double take on how they live behind closed doors and what they choose to share with the world. Even if you bare your soul online, are your really safe?
One of the shining parts of the film is its friendship. Lily, Bex, Sarah, and Em remain at each others’ sides as Salem descends into madness. They never question each other, even in light of being accused of destroying the town from the inside out. In Assassination Nation, its heroines wage a bitter war against misogyny. It taps into the pent up anger from eons of double standards, sexual harassment, and being told how to behave. These seem to be common issues that women all face, so why not stick together? Looking fierce in their patent red trench coats, the four women have their guns drawn, as if to say, “On Wednesdays we wear red and destroy the patriarchy”.
Under Assassination Nation‘s numerous messages about social media, privacy, and shame culture, there’s a reassurance that it is OK to be imperfect, to be angry, and to take control of your own life. Sam Levinson’s direction at times capitalizes on the male gaze, but just as quickly slaps viewers with a fiercely feminist agenda that reminds the audience of what the film is really about: Making you think about what’s going on in America.
Georgia-born, (North) Carolina raised, Adriana is now based in Southern California (Migrating between San Diego and LA). As well as being a writer, she works as a film festival Marketing Coordinator. She has always been passionate about film, writing, and creating and celebrating work that champions diversity and feminism. She is also a potato enthusiast and fashion school defector.