Sunday 28 October 2018

ASSASSINATION NATION - London Film Festival review

When the town of Salem is rocked by scandal after the contents of the Mayor's personal hard-drive get leaked by a hacker, everyone starts looking for the culprit before they themselves fall victim. In the firing line is a group of four young women, unaware that the mob are coming for them.

Assassination Nation sets out its stall early on, delivering a Gasper Noe-esque list of potential trigger warnings the film features in brightly coloured text. "Toxic Masculinity", "Sexism" and "Transphobia" are just a few of the hot topic subjects this film goes after. To its credit, the desired outcome doesn't seem to be to just ruffle some feathers and piss off audiences who veer both left and right, but to expose public outrage for all its ridiculousness and ask its audience to put themselves in other's shoes.

At the centre of the film is Odessa Young's Lily, a high school student prone to taking lewd selfies to send to "Daddy". Along with the rest of the school, she and her three girlfriends, Em, Sarah & Bex (Abra, Suki Waterhouse & Hari Nef, respectively) join in with the viral spreading and meme-ification of every new piece of scandal that appears in increasing regularity. Although the poster may feature all four young women dressed in red leather coats (a knowing steal from nod to Japanese exploitation flick Delinquent Girl Boss), this only relates to the later stages of the film when they find themselves in increasing danger from the jeering mob, lead by the police and authority figures who should be protecting them. For the most part Assassination Nation sees the main characters dealing with normal teenage life; school, boys, parties, parents, etc, and for all the doom and gloom of the story, it's nice to see such a supportive group of female friends without it falling back on some typical high school movie stereotypes of bitchiness and in-fighting. I suppose there is some of that present in the film in the Maude Apatow/Bella Thorne subplot, but the core four stand strong together.

These teenagers exist in an age where their every move is published on the internet. The "adults" in the film may think they know what's best for the younger generation, but they are less equipped to pay the price of having their internet search history revealed and having to deal with a small subsection of the community quickly descending into a vocal, violent mob. It is of no coincidence that this film is set in Salem, home of the infamous witch hunts, as both the Mayor and the school Principal face the same braying mob (although under vastly different circumstances), demanding action to match their outrage. The film pulls no punches in asking the audience to question their allegiances and ask what side they would take in the argument, as characters fall victim to the hacker's indiscriminate outings and are branded pedophiles and child molesters without evidence of that. Lily's actions and relationship with "Daddy" have drastic consequences for her family and others, but is she a sexually confident young woman taking advantage of modern courtship rituals, or is she a child being manipulated by an older man into sending pornography?

Assassination Nation is upfront about its satirical approach, delivering its message with all the subtlety of a baseball bat to a cheerleader's head. It often skirts pretty close to sacrificing story in favour of style, but has enough nastiness propelling it forward to paint a troubling picture of a society not too far away from our own, filled with revenge porn and violent groups that wouldn't look out of place in The Purge films. Although not the main focus of the film, I found the most compelling story to be of Bex (Hari Nef), the transgender member of the group. Looking for a nice, normal teenage relationship with one of the jocks but having to deal with how easily mob mentality will dictate people's actions, for all the many outlandish set ups in the film, Bex's story seemed to be the most disappointingly, believably truthful.

Taking stylings from exploitation films and visual cues and colour schemes (good old red, white and blue) from Gaspar Noe and Joseph Kahn, Assassination Nation is a vibrant, nasty, clever film that's tough on the constitution of the prudish and a shit load of fun. Come for the shock value, stay for the marching band cover of Miley Cyrus's We Can't Stop. Assassination Nation is one wild ride from start to finish.


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