Wednesday 24 October 2018

Assassination Nation

Assassination Nation

Few film genres are as socially conscious as the teen movie. Every generation has its own, a reflection of society at the time and all its anxieties.

Assassination Nation, a black comedy from writer-director Sam Levinson, is a kaleidoscopic cornucopia of social anxiety, injustice and prejudice. There's even a roll-call of trigger warnings at the start: toxic masculinity, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and so much more. Though the film centres on four girls in an American high school (with shades of modern day Heathers), its themes don't quite coalesce into a cohesive story. Instead it plays out like a series of montages and vignettes that thrive on a perpetually intense atmosphere.

Levinson shoots the film like a horror. Noir lighting, abstract camera angles, and stark use of sound and an ominous soundtrack all add to a sense of constant dread that keeps us on the edge of our seats. The colours red, white and blue also proliferate in the moody lighting and costumes that hammers home this state of the nation satire, full of powerful imagery that frequently shocks.

Yet unlike other horror films, there's no beast, ghost or witch to face against. Instead, it's the omniscience of the internet that is the nemesis of our social media obsessed heroines and through this, everyone and anything becomes terrifying. The assassination of the title is social assassination through hacked phones and leaked information. Every character has a secret, but whose will be uncovered next? Whose life is about to be ruined with catastrophic consequences?

What's most terrifying is how real this can all feel, especially under the social pressures of being a teen. Levinson shoots much of the film on camera phones, turning this social satire into a frightening reality - a modern day witch hunt. It's no coincidence it's set in Salem.

The internet empowers as much as it frightens, but Assassination Nation explores what happens when that power falls into the wrong hands. If teen films are about fighting back against adults, then Levinson's film represents the ultimate teen power fantasy, able to cause mass destruction at the click of a button.

Eventually these "assassinations" do become real and the film descends into grotesque and extreme violence, almost revelling in it. It evolves from a smart teen horror into a #MeToo feminist revenge story that's badass, but overstates the point before erupting into a full-on gender war. Speaking of gender, perhaps best of all is that one of the four girls is transgender and represented wonderfully by Hari Nef - not only a fully-rounded character far from ticking a box, but of course given all the best lines.

Assassination Nation is smartly terrifying yet utterly absurd in its cartoonish satire, as preposterous as it is close to reality. It's the perfect reflection of society today: a divisive film for a divided population.


Watch: Assassination Nation was shown at the London Film Festival and will be released on 23rd November.