Assassination Nation – The Sundance Review

January 24, 2018 Jeff Goldsmith

Pigeon-holing people sucks because of how reductive it is.

That said the folks reading this review fit into one of four highly predictable categories:

You’ll love it.

You’ll hate it.

You’ll think it’s just OK.

You’re probably too busy to see it, but totally meant to.

You’ll love it because you enjoy a bit of thoughtful social justice wish fulfillment with your serving of ultra-violence.

You’ll hate it because it’s loud and obnoxious and filled with people doing things you look down on. Why can’t they just say the same things in a calmer, more civilized fashion like how they used to in the films you grew up on? Upon realizing that the Instagram generation will love this film and be exposed to a bunch of things you think they’ve never been exposed to (although in reality most of them the crazy stuff you hope they haven’t seen about three years ago) you’ll find yourself asking “Who will protect our children? Can’t we have a film about that?”

You’ll think it’s just OK, because you’re a cinephile – surely you’ve seen better. After all, there’s nothing new under the sun, right? Just some feeble recycled attempts at pretending things are new. If you went to Sundance and missed it, it’s only because you hit the slopes, because who goes to The Dance to see movies? Right, Bro?

You probably won’t see it because you’ve got a lot on your plate and while you might watch a trailer or clip, we both know you’ve got a lot of episodic TV you need to catch up on.

But maybe…somehow by the time Assassination Nation is released you’ll decide you’ve heard enough about it that you might choose to go see it in a theater. It’s an instant win if you do because you’ll be paying to gauge just how far comfort levels can be pushed for all the strangers sitting around you. After all this is a film that has a “Trigger Warning” highlight reel in its opening sequence as a way of prepping the audience and showing them just how far over the line the film plans to go.

We’re introduced to Lily (Odessa Young) a social media savvy 18 year-old in Salem who finds herself at the center of a doxxing controversy when a hack of the entire town’s personal browser histories, emails, nude photos and porn watching habits is laid out in the open for all to see. Cheaters are caught, public images are ruined, friendships burned and with the citizenry riled up into a frenzied mob – someone’s gotta pay for the doxxing. Not only does the violent crowd taking to the streets act on homophobic and racist motives they overall couldn’t care less if they’ve truly found the real hacker – they’re quite happy to go after whoever is easiest to blame.

With everyday citizens donning trippy and threatening masks during urban safari, Assassination Nation without a doubt echoes tropes from The Purge – but with four sequels, can you really blame the film for paying homage to this cultural touchstone of the genre? Yet it’s the take on the girl rivalry genre that writer-director Sam Levinson really hunts down.

Over the years those storylines have progressed from Heathers to Mean Girls and feature internal threats within young women’s cliques, yet Levinson shows a newer angle whereby contemporary teen girls collectively circle their wagons to protect against modern external threats ranging from revenge porn blackmail to rape culture. But, yes, if you must ask – there’s still definitely some ladies who hate each other beyond belief and they even act out violently in regards to their disdain. But it’s the bonding of these teen girls to build a stronger resistance against external forces that truly shines through.

Levinson won the Waldo Salt Award for screenwriting at Sundance with Another Happy Day in 2011 and has now delivered an excitingly original film that audiences will have trouble looking away from. This is a lightning rod of a film whereby Levinson smartly tosses in as many incendiary hot-topics and social issues as he can so that by the time the film ends – there are few stones left unturned. Levinson smartly captures a society so fractured, that it’s easy for it to drop all civility as it steadfastly devolves into gang-like cliques who each want to forcibly assert their own beliefs as the only acceptable beliefs and feel emboldened by their mob mentality which they’ve now decided gives them a license to kill.

As a craftsman Levinson created memorable characters with darkly hilarious dialogue and witty monologues paired with vibrant visuals. This is a writer-director who dared to experiment and his endeavor paid off. If after seeing it, you decide it’s not for you, make sure to give yourself a pat on the back for trying something new and don’t take things too personally if it offended you, because at the end of the day it’s simply all about the lols.

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High school senior Lily and her crew of besties live in a haze of texts, posts, selfies, and chats—just like the rest of us. So when a provocateur starts posting details from the private digital lives of everyone in their small town of Salem, the result is a Category 5 shitstorm. We’re talking browser histories, direct messages, illegal downloads, secret text chains, and way, way, way worse. People get angry. Like, “rampaging murder posse” angry. And Lily finds herself right in the middle.

Writer/director Sam Levinson returns to the Sundance Film Festival with an unflinching, unrelenting, undeniable picture of what it’s like to be alive and online this very second. Together with a talented cast, he’s created a wickedly fun and irrepressibly stylish exploration of the ugliest parts of human nature. The result is so insane that it feels prescient: a searing parable on the verge of becoming breaking news.

Filmmaker Details:

Sam Levinson

Sam Levinson is a writer-director whose debut film, Another Happy Day, was awarded the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. He recently co-wrote the Emmy-nominated HBO movie Wizard of Lies (2017). He is proud to debut his second feature as writer/director, Assassination Nation, at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Cast & Credits

Director: Sam Levinson

Screenwriter: Sam Levinson

Producers: David S. Goyer / Kevin Turen / Anita Gou / Matthew J. Malek / Manu Gargi / Aaron L. Gilbert

Executive Producers: Jason Cloth / Steven Thibault / Andy Pollack / Mike Novogratz / David Gendron / Ali Jazayeri / J.E. Moore / Will Greenfield

Co-Executive Producers: Milan Chakraborty / Brenda Gilbert

Co-Producer: Matthias Mellinghaus

Composer: Ian Hultquist

Director of Photography: Marcel Rév

Production Designer: Michael Grasley

Editor: Ron Patane

Costume Designer: Rachel Dainer-Best

Casting Directors: Mary Vernieu / Jessica Kelly

Principal Cast: Odessa Young / Suki Waterhouse / Hari Nef / Abra / Bill Skårsgard / Bella Thorne