Cast: Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, Abra
Director: Sam Levinson
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: High school senior Lily and her group of friends live in a haze of texts, posts, selfies and chats just like the rest of the world. So, when an anonymous hacker starts posting details from the private lives of everyone in their small town, the result is absolute madness leaving Lily and her friends questioning whether they’ll live through the night.
Even though NEON is a very young production studio, they seem to have hit their stride as a company that values stylish elements over building characters in a more traditional way. With Assassination Nation, we get a film that while relatively weak from a narrative perspective, it is absolutely stunning to look at from start to finish. From the editing to the color palate, the score to the cinematography, these elements elevate the weak characters and turn Assassination Nation into a very enjoyable film.
The film follows Lily (Young), a high school student who thrives in her world of sexuality and does not see her love of nudity as sexual but more so an act of beauty and vulnerability. When a hacker reveals the details of every person’s private life in town, Lily must face the consequences of her actions and she has to make sure that she and her friends survive the night when the townspeople start to lose their minds. The things that truly make this film better than what it should be are all of the attention to detail from the below the line actions. In the first act, there is a beautiful sequence of editing where we get to see how the night at a party goes for the four main characters, but it balances the chaos of the night by describing to us what each of these characters wants to do and how they go about their lives without ever saying a word. Outside of the editing, the cinematography is stunning and perfectly captures the essence of every scene. Even the action sequences are balanced and smooth and the cinematography sets the tone of every scene without ever distracting us. The cinematography is guided by an inspiring color palate which is an effective use of subtle symbolism while once again never saying a word. The gritty dark colors that show us the dangers that lie ahead for our main characters are coupled with shades of red that pop off the screen in an obvious reference to The Scarlet Letter and the Salem Witch Trials showing us that this recognizes the source material but is merely showing us how it would play out in a modern setting. Add an interesting synth soundtrack that many modern retellings tend to have and you get music that is constantly setting the tone for the entire 110 minute runtime. Where the film tends to struggle is with the development of its characters. We never really learn anything about these characters other than their drinking, drug, and sex habits, and while it not nearly as bad as the characters in Slender Man, these characters are not much of a step of. Building off of that, in the third act the main characters somehow gain the ability to fight of hoards of townspeople on their own with no background in firearms shown. I know the film is supposed to be kind of goofy and not taken seriously, but four random high school girls would have a very tough time just picking up high-powered machine guns and defending themselves with them. This is not unique to this film as many movies have the unlimited clips and 100% gunshot accuracy issue, and I really wish this movie had taken a different route to avoid that. On top of this, the ending completely undermines the buildup that the film and everything that had been established before the conclusion. When we finally get a reason for the issues that have been caused throughout the town, the response from the perpetrator is absolutely pathetic. Once again I understand that the film is supposed to be a satire and as a result it should be relatively funny, but there had to be a better way than this. Instead of laughing out of my seat at the finale, I ended up scratching my head in a state of confusion as there had to be a better way to explain the logic. Maybe the logic is that these people had no logic, and if it then the film did not do a great job of establishing that rule earlier in the movie.
Overall, while the film is one of the most technically pleasing movies of the year, the characters were just not developed enough to complement the things that work. The acting itself is fine with Young giving a very intriguing performance, but the material does not give her much to work with. While I give the movie credit for being an innovative and creative concept, there were just too many issues that separated a good film from becoming a great film.
Overall Score: 7/10