In some strange attempt to poke fun at the concept of basic human decency, Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation is prefaced by a list of trigger warnings. Apathetic teenager Lily (Odessa Young) reels off a list of topics which will pop up over the film’s 110-minute runtime, including transphobia, attempted rape, gore and “fragile male egos”. Levinson makes his stance clear: ‘This movie isn’t for those who are easily offended, LOL!’
Billed as a ‘satirical teen thriller’, Levinson’s film focuses heavily on the texts, sexts and salacious selfies that – according to mass media – are integral parts of the teen experience. Black humour hints at Heathers as an inspiration, but the aesthetic seems closer to Zack Snyder’s misguided 2011 thriller Sucker Punch.
Set in Salem, Massachusetts, it sees a group of high school students – Lily, Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) Bex (Hari Nef) and Em (Abra) – become the focus of a whole town’s ire following a mass data leak. With secrets exposed through incriminating texts and photos, a #witchhunt (because they’re in Salem! Geddit?) begins. Forced to defend themselves against a crowd baying for their blood, the girls raid an arsenal of guns, don red vinyl raincoats, and start to wage war.
Any attempt at satirising either American society’s fear of teenagers or inherent misogyny is undermined by how willingly the film seems to buy into the very thing it’s purportedly riffing on. The characters are all Millennial/Gen Z caricatures, but Levinson fails to tell us anything we don’t already know about mob mentality or the pitfalls of living life online.
He seems purely interested in dressing young women in provocative outfits, giving them assault rifles and claiming this is somehow subversive, rendering Assassination Nation an empty, salivating spectacle with nothing new or interesting to say about the objectification and vilification of young women.