Assassination Nation Review (Sundance) - A Crazy Revenge Flick for Millennials - Dread Central
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Assassination Nation Review (Sundance) – A Crazy Revenge Flick for Millennials



Starring Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, Abra, Bill Skarsgård and Joel McHale

Written by Sam Levinson

Directed by Sam Levinson

Amongst the hundreds of films that screened at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, empowerment seems like the connecting factor. Whether successful or not, so many of the films this year attempted to tell stories that spoke to our turbulent, defining era. Considering that the Midnight section is often socially out of touch, it’s heartening to find several genre films that join this movement amongst the lineup. The most sought-after amongst them, and possibly the most entertaining, is Assassination Nation.

Sam Levinson returns to the festival with this highly-stylized mash-up, focused on high school senior Lily and her gang of sharp-tongued, sex-positive friends. When the mayor’s iCloud is hacked, releasing a series of disturbing photos, their small town of Salem, Massechussetts devolves into paranoia. More people get hacked, resulting in a witch-hunt for the culprit – or perhaps just a cleansing of the town’s youth. Faced with an angry mob of white men (tiki torches traded for assault rifles), the young women must fight for their right to live.

It’s a somewhat ludicrous concept, and one could imagine any number of ways that it might go wrong. No high schooler has ever been as clever as Lily, and the whip-sharp dialogue grows tiresome at times, especially when pop music blasts in the background. But, the story’s darkness – drawing obvious inspiration from The Crucible and the ugly behavior that we witness on Internet chat threads – builds upon human behavior rather than camp. Its hyper-colorized style, with an obsessively kinetic camera and a bone-rattling electronic score, can be overwhelming at times; but when it works, it speaks to modern aesthetics in a way that’s both sexy and suspenseful.

The film wouldn’t work at all without its stellar group of leading actors, namely Odessa Young and Hari Nef, whose transgender storyline is the film’s emotional highlight. Even at the story’s most ridiculous, they portray their characters with emotional authenticity and verve, which prevents them from feeling too much like stereotypes. They own the story, too. Nef noted in a discussion that director Levinson included them in the writing process, and it shows. The film is far from politically correct, but it’s politically aware, and considering its thematically dark story, this is the only route it could have taken.

Unfortunately, the wild-ride pacing manages to cover up some major flaws in the story’s structure – there are too many characters, most of whom introduce subplots that are never resolved, and do we really need all of that narration? This is a fantasy, as its plot description should make clear; and yet it feels like a fantasy that young audiences deserve to indulge in at this time. It’s intense, it’s pitch-black in its humor, but it never victimizes its characters. They take us through brutal violence and terrifying cruelty, while remaining focused on catharsis – the protagonists’ youthful transgressions aren’t punished by the filmmakers, but the villains, and the young folk do deliver justice. It’s a revenge dream for people confronted with an age when insipid anger wins out, and it reminds us that we are allowed to fight back – in fact, we must.

Assassination Nation may be flawed in its neon style and overly-clever script; but with a fabulous cast of young women and a story that speaks to our generation’s deepest fears, it remains a powerful entry at Sundance. It’s been picked up for distribution, so it may very well find its audience. Considering the films that it references – old revenge flicks, terrorist thrillers, dark comedies like Heathers – it doesn’t live up to their originality, and maybe it doesn’t have to, if it accesses the people who deserve to feel its release. If this is the thematic future of genre cinema, this writer is looking forward to it, regardless of flaw.

  • Assassination Nation


It isn’t perfect, but Assassination Nation uses style, political awareness and a strong cast to tell a crazy story with a cathartic message for the terrified millennials out there.



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