Assassination Nation, writer-director Sam Levinson’s bloody, messy commentary on our outrage-fatigued era, can’t commit.
The story of four teen girls vilified by the mostly white-male mob when their town’s personal information gets hacked, Nation is a mash-up of clever visuals, tweets, blood spatters, a welcome dose of female confidence, cruelty, smart casting and mixed messages.
It wants to have its young leads own their sexuality, then objectify them and subject them to sexualized violence. It wants you to thrill to a last-act Feminism-101 tirade before it gives the actual last word to a thoughtless turd of a hacker.
It wants to transform the very real threats that are made online against women and other marginalized people into a revenge tale, but it also wants to be (and sometimes succeeds at being) a bloody thriller — two agendas that it can’t quite square.
This isn’t to say there’s nothing to enjoy amid the snappy edits, iPhone dings, split-screens and bloodbaths. Odessa Young slowly builds her rage as Lily, a girl who, like so many of us, lives very much online.
When a hacker starts sending people’s data — browsing history, selfies, texts — to the entire town, she’s initially branded a slut for her relationship with a creepy older neighbor (of course, no one blames the dude). But when the rumor gets out that Lily’s behind the whole hack, no one pauses to think how the gossip doesn’t make a lick of sense; they just lose their minds and go after Lily and her friends.
Those friends include the underdeveloped sisters Sarah (Suki Waterhouse, who keeps getting stuck in movies like this) and Em (Abra), along with the excellent Hari Nef as Bex, the trans teen action-heroine we absolutely needed. (Bill Skarsgard appears as Lily’s shitty boyfriend Mark, but he vanishes halfway through the film.)
Em and Sarah’s mom, Nance (Anika Noni Rose), has one of the best scenes in the whole movie, which otherwise mostly forgets that women over 18 exist. (It’s also got a latent streak of fatphobia: the only fat person is a leering misogynist cop.)
More Sucker Punch than Heathers, Assassination Nation still manages to get a few things right, including the way a mob (online or off) can come after the innocent. Levinson’s best choice is to have its four heroines take on the town’s violent misogynists together. There’s real power in women having each other’s backs.
Did I cheer at least once? I did. Did I laugh a certain bitter laughter at some of the on-the-nose jokes? Indeed. But did the deeply ingrained glibness of the final scene burn up what was left of my goodwill toward this movie? Just about. (Broadway Metro)