“Some writer once said 10% of the population is cruel, 10 % is merciful, and the other 80% can be swayed into either direction. I bet that writer has never seen a Worldstar Video, 4chan, or Twitter.”– Assassination Nation
This movie analyzes issues of privacy, public shaming, and internet culture all through a believable balance of dark comedy, horror, and crime. It blew me away and should be on everyone’s viewing list. It reminded me of all the reasons I enjoyed Jon Ronson’s You’ve Been Publicly Shamed and Black Mirror‘s “Hated in the Nation.”
A simple summary: An anonymous hacker leaks half the town of Salem’s digital data resulting in a modern day witch hunt turned The Purge. This movie hits you over the head with metaphors about American culture’s obsession with violence like The Purge, but Assassination Nation balances those blunt blows with a sense of shock and fear when the violence happens. You aren’t rooting for the violent characters but instead are horrified by their extremism (until you are which is an interesting if not self-defeating choice).
Reasons You Should Watch Assassination Nation:
- Worth the watch on it’s own: a brilliantly directed scene of the camera circling an expansive glass house (people who live in glass houses should not throw stones…) as it is being invaded by multiple masked intruders. It is terrifying and artfully handled, including the moments we watch the protagonists get filled with a sense of inexplicable dread without really knowing why they feel so freaked out.
- It gets right what most slashers tend to get wrong: it makes you care for the teenage protagonists. When the girls are first attacked it is shocking and scary and I felt invested into their dynamic. Likewise, it felt vindicating to see them fight back. It also shows how strong the friendships between all the girls are. They aren’t needlessly contentious towards one another just to show how “complex” female friendships can be. They are just teenage girls who turn to one another for support and love through highs and lows.
- Seeing a family values politician being exposed as a gay cross dresser always fills me with an intoxicating rush of schadenfreude mixed with told you so. I love that this movie even makes me question my perception of those scandals a bit. It seems Bex is supposed to come across as cruel in her indifference to his suicide which makes the movie’s ability to make you sympathize with and root for Bex all the more impressive.
- They hired trans actress Hari Nef to play a trans character. Authentic representation of trans characters matters. When you take a famous actor and have him play a trans woman, it immediately becomes about a cisgender actor you know playing a woman. It shreds the viewer’s ability to appreciate the character for who they are. In this case Bex is a fully realized character who isn’t interesting merely because she is trans or because she is being played by a famous cisgender actor – she is just a well-written, well-acted, and complex character.
- This movie is what The Purge wishes it was: a simultaneously sincere and satirical depiction of America’s obsession with violence by catering to America’s obsession with violence. Unfortunately the violence in the finale of this film shifts from horrifying to entertaining. It is knowingly ridiculous, fun, and cathartic to watch but betrays some of the film’s commentary. It seems to sincerely want you to switch from being horrified by violence to cheering it on and I don’t think it completely works. The characters do say at various points of the film, “if this was a movie…”, so my hypothesis is that those final acts of cathartic violence are the “hey here’s the movie you were probably looking for” moments.
- I’m surprised by some of the comments I’ve seen regarding this movie where people boldly declare “no one would care” what was in their digital histories. The whole point of the principal’s subplot and undoing is there wasn’t anything that bad in his digital files – people just took what was there and made a controversy out of a relatively normal private life.
- That ending with a black marching band parading through the carnage on the streets to a school battle song version of Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop” is fantastic. Is it meant to be mournful? Celebratory? It’s whatever you want to read into it, but most likely another critique of our desire to be entertained by carnage.