In a time of #MeToo and endless sexual assault allegations, Assassination Nation is hands down the boldest and fearless film of 2018. It’s a film with a mission so ambitious that American audiences are not ready to watch. It’s a film so unapologetically direct and strikingly relevant that is sure to create controversy. Sam Levinson’s hypnotic political thriller will not be able to escape the inevitable Purge comparisons. But Assassination Nation is what The Purge tries to be and what it should strive to be.
The film opens in a bizarre fashion, one that not many films are ready to utilize – trigger warnings. From “violence” to “sexual assault” to “toxic masculinity,” Assassination Nation defines itself within its opening minutes. It foreshadows a film with a cultural thesis, one about women and sexual constraint. To tell this story, we follow four teenage girls, Lily (Odessa Young), Bex (Hari Nef), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), and Em (Abra). They all live in a small American village plagued by hacks. These anonymous hackers uncover the town’s various sexual internet fantasies, from cross-dressing to daddy-daughter fantasies.
It’s an intriguing concept that not many films, especially in the sexually repressed America, are willing to talk about. But Assassination Nation brings exactly these thoughts to light and what would happen if our taboo sexual fantasies would to known to our neighbors in this age where privacy is (almost) gone. If you’ve seen the trailers, you know exactly what the filmmakers think would happen, a full-on Purge-like revolution led by men.
With a full set of ideas, Assassination Nation utilizes visual flair and clever writing to deliver one of the year’s most crazy film. The visual style is colorful, extravagant, and ultimately too beautiful to be real like an Instagram profile. Levinson’s use of split screen during a party is reminiscent of any social media feed, showcasing just how much information we take in a short amount of time.
These clever and inventive visuals are paired with Levinson’s equally clever writing. There’s plenty of uncomfortable conversation left to have but Levinson forces us to have them. He attacks the patriarchy’s set of sexual rules while also showing that no one really follows them anyway. To reconcile this cognitive dissonance, men blame women when these rules get broken. It’s a compelling feminist thesis that is both hypocritical and terrifying.
When things eventually get violently out-of-hands, the film undeniably becomes a copy of The Purge. People proudly waving the American flag wearing a creepy clown mask while holding a giant pickaxe is all too deja-vu. But unlike The Purge, Assassination Nation‘s cultural criticism is stronger and more aggressive than its counterpart. The biggest problem for this political thriller comes down to the very end, where it lays it all out for you just in case it wasn’t already clear. These types of ending mark a lack of confidence from their directors and writers, one that was clearly unnecessary.
American hypocrisy is on trial and Assassination Nation is not letting anyone off the hook. It’s a timely film, one populated with plenty of visual flairs and oozing with social commentary. What is created here is a controversial film no doubt but it stands as an exercise in visual cultural criticism and shows just how movies are essential to culture and society.
Assassination Nation comes out September 21st.