Sam Levinson’s surrealist thriller “Assassination Nation” exploits the current fears of many millennials regarding privacy on the internet. In the age of Russian hackers and Instagram modes, this film hits right at home as we watch the small, suburban town of Salem dissolve into chaos over one night when a malevolent computer hack exposes the deepest held secrets of the townsfolk. The audience follows a girl-squad composed of Lily, Bex, Sarah and Em, played by Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse and Abra, respectively, as they fight to survive through the night when their de facto leader, Lily, is accused of being behind the town-wide hack. The following film, a mix of The Purge, Heathers and a splash of Kill Bill, represents everything a film should be for the modern moviegoing audience.
Assassination Nation knows what it wants to be and what it is but, most importantly, it knows who it’s audience is. It knows that you were most likely checking Instagram right before you stepped into the theater or that you checked Facebook earlier in the day. It is aware of every livestream you have ever done and every tweet you have ever sent and, because of that, it perfectly taps into what scares you. The film exploits the issue of privacy in the “age of technology” in a brilliant way, even introducing two characters which represent the different arguments regarding the existence of online privacy today. One side of the argument, that privacy can still exist in an online space, is represented by Lily — the aforementioned leader-as we watch her sext a mysterious older man, only ever referred to via text as “daddy”, while she parties with her popular boyfriend. The other side of the argument presented in the character of Reagan, a narcissistic cheerleader played by Bella Thorne who claims that there no longer is privacy on the internet. The film expertly toys with the delicate bargain that the audience has made with the internet. While most of us understand that what we do online is no longer private — a fact that we have reluctantly come to terms with over the recent years — we also understand that we are at the mercy of hackers and choose to believe that we are safe from them simply because we could never be a threat. Or are we?
This film expertly taps into the psyche of its viewer and instills in them a feeling of paranoia. However, this feeling leaves the theater with you and makes you second guess everything you Google and every website you visit. The film offers an avenue for reflection. Is online privacy really dead? Assassination Nation, by providing commentary about reality with technology, connects to the audience in ways that are new for film. “Assassination Nation” could be indicative of a larger shift towards tech-centric film in which the technology we all use everyday serves to enhance the plot rather than hinder it.
“Assassination Nation” also represents a shift in the political focus of films as, in its purest form, this is a film and story for the moment. The story addresses gender stereotypes and the misuse of technology to further force those stereotypes upon impressionable teenagers. In addition, it addresses the “witch hunt” culture that has emerged in the era of the #MeToo Movement but takes it a step further and turns it on its head by using the witch hunt as a way to attack misogyny online. Being able to follow women through the film as they interact with friends on social media and in person helps the audience examine more closely just what it feels like to be a teenager in an online space. In one rather poignant scene, Lily points out that social media provides a way for people to share the best of their lives, only to have it susceptible to criticism. The film uses beautiful shots, a dynamic soundtrack, a wonderful neon aesthetic and eerie filmmaking techniques to depict a town addicted to secrets shared over the internet. This allows the audience to follow the girls as they break free of their social-media-induced trance and are literally able to fight misogyny in their town. Now tell me, reader, are you not intrigued?