"Ballsy and wild, Assassination Nation starts off strong but loses itself along the way"
For his second directorial effort Sam Levinson brings us the black-comedy thriller Assassination Nation, which stars Odessa Young as Lily, Abra as Em, Suki Waterhouse as Sarah and Hari Nef as Bex, a foursome of best friends at a high school in Salem, Massachusetts.
Lily is in a longterm relationship with Mark (Bill Skarsgaard) but she is sexting an unknown older man she calls 'Daddy' on the quiet. However, her secret is soon made public when a computer hacker leaks the phone data about many of the town's residents, exposing scandalous personal information which affects everybody. The town soon devolves into chaos and violence, with a vigilante-style group deciding to take matters into their own hands and teach Lily a lesson for being ‘slutty’, and it becomes even worse when she’s accused of the leak.
Assassination Nation is very loud, in-your-face and has a lot to say. It opens with loud pumping music and lists a series of trigger warning notices, which include toxic masculinity, assault and transphobia to name a few. It is a brash and bold start and I was immediately hooked, eager to find out what would come next.
The first half is strong and captivating and I enjoyed learning about the girls, their relationships and the initial fallout from the first wave of hacks. The feminist message was frank and obvious and the dialogue was fun and made me laugh. The second half descends into chaos much like the action in the film. It becomes serious, bloody and violent and its message was no longer as focused and clear, and at times I felt like the overall narrative had got lost among the style and wealth of ideas.
The purpose of the first half is presumably to make you care for the girls’ survival but the only one I really cared about surviving was Bex, who was a sympathetic character with some depth who had been treated awfully because she’s transgender. Lily is the lead character and she has a rough time, being accused for things she’s not guilty of, so I wanted her to prove her innocence and get her revenge on the people who had gone mad and wanted to kill her.
The other two in the group – Em and Sarah – have barely anything to do. Their characters don’t have much to contribute outside of group conversations and action sequences and don’t have a storyline of their own which is a shame. All the other supporting characters are thinly written too, particularly Bella Thorne as bitchy cheerleader Reagan.
There are some standout characters though, like Maude Apatow as Grace, who learns her friend leaked her nudes, and Colman Domingo as Principal Turrell, whose career is in ruins over the leak. They were sympathetic characters and I want more of them, while Tony Hale has a small yet juicy part, and I saw him in a way I never had before.
Assassination Nation started off so well but it went completely wild and lost the plot a bit like the townspeople in the movie. It got messy and came to a weak conclusion so I didn’t get the pay off I was expecting, given the strong start.