In Sam Levinson’s new film Assassination Nation, Lilly, Em, Sarah, and Bex are four teenaged high school girls so in love with themselves and obsessed with social media they ignore the world around them. Their hometown of Salem has lost its f**king mind. This is why, when the sh*t hits the fan, they have no time to prepare for the onslaught of violence coming their way. Within the first two minutes, there is a huge trigger warning flooded with multiple triggers, and the film delivers on them all. Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a satirical comedy. There is nothing funny about what these young women endure.
Lily (Odessa Young), Bex (Hari Nef), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), Em (Abra) are like so many youngsters of their generation. They seek social media fame, love, makeup, smoking weed, and love flirting with people twice their age. Lily is the leader of the group but doesn’t trust her coven of friends enough to tell them she’s been sexting the next door neighbor Nick (Joel McHale). Things go wrong for the group when a 4chan script kiddies begin hacking into the phones of prominent figures in the Salem community.
Exposed as a gay crossdresser, the town mayor has his pictures leaked. Next, naked photos of the high school principal’s daughter emerge, and the town labels him a pedophile. Salem soon spirals into paranoia as ordinary citizens suddenly find their text messages and private picture galleries are shared with everyone. Local police trace the suspicious activity back to Lily’s house. From there, a slow tension builds, and the deluge of deadly hysteria hits the audience like a freight train and doesn’t slow down for sixty minutes.
The film is more accessible if the characters are thought of as personifications of the different personalities of those who navigate the internet. Women receive the most abuse online no matter what intersectional crossroad they stand on; however, the main issue is social media can cause people to go nuts with call-out culture, which has become the norm. Writer/director Sam Levinson knows how to write empowering dialogue. Every actress has at least one monologue that is poignant, culturally relevant, and tailored to each character’s personality. I found myself agreeing with their logic most of the time. Bravo to Levinson for making the women smart, capable, and self-reliant. Also, it is refreshing to see queer actors in roles where their identity is a non-issue, as actress Hari Nef is one of the leading heroes in Salem’s feminist revolution.
Assassination Nation isn’t perfect. The last shot is the young women of Salem joining the four main heroes on the street in a great show of solidarity among women. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the desired impact and is anti-climactic. After all that’s happened on the streets of Salem, no one is coming outside to join this makeshift revolution weaponless and in their pajamas.
There could have been a bit more inclusion among the leads. White and black women aren’t the only ones who receive online harassment, experience doxxing, and worse. But what the film does, it does fairly well. Assassination Nation puts extreme toxic masculinity on display—and shows what can happen when men have too much control. In the time of #TimesUp and #MeToo, it is women who are at the forefront of change. For the women of Salem to live, they must rise and take back their power. But, it makes you wonder: can’t we all just get along in this technologically advanced society? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure: women are tired of taking sh*t from men.
This was originally reviewed for the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.