19th October 2018 9.00pm at Vue West End
20th October 2018 2.30pm at Embankment Garden Cinema
21st October 2018 8.30pm at Prince Charles Cinema
Drenched in blood and draped in the American flag, Assassination Nation is exactly as big, bold and brash as its title suggests. Sam Levinson’s latest film is not subtle, nor does it have any intention of being so; rather, it’s a pointed assault on the senses that aims to keep its audience unsettled. To that end, it certainly succeeds.
The movie charts the story of four teenage girls in Salem. Can you guess where this is going? Unashamedly pointed in its references, the feature follows the witchhunt that ensues when the small suburban town is hit by a hacker who leaks the online information of half its inhabitants. An Instagram-age twist on The Crucible, this is a story about the pressures placed on young women to be sexy yet servile, confident yet uncorrupted. Exploring this impossible contradiction are Lily (Odessa Young), Bex (Hari Nef), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) and Em (Abra). Young gives an engaging lead performance, blooming from naive adolescence to defiant womanhood, while Nef’s portrayal of the struggle – both internal and external – inflicted by transphobia is as affecting as it is pertinent.
In terms of his message, the US director comes across loud and clear. In the opening sequence, as bold text in red white and blue flashes across the screen, a voiceover gives the forecast: violence, “rape (attempted)”, “delicate male egos” and more violence. As the film continues, a dark and twisted commentary emerges on the state of America today. Indeed, what Levinson’s screenplay lacks in nuance it makes up for in its deliciously dark sense of humour. Unexpected laughs bubble up from deeply troubling truths such as the desensitisation of the youth to sex and violence.
In this toxic culture, everything is about image, and this feature is crafted with a fittingly sleek and stylish aesthetic. Undulating crimson light spills into scenes, filtering everything through a seductive haze. Split screens in phone dimensions frame reality through a judgemental and ever-watchful lens. The camera follows characters into glaring overexposed spotlights, putting the viewer under intense and unbearable scrutiny. In a Taratinoesque Kill Bill climax, four girls paint the town red. The sound, too, is an exercise in excess; even as the credits roll we are subjected to excruciating noise, an overload of information to ensure we aren’t sitting comfortably.
A consequence of this in-your-face delivery, there is little ambiguity left for the audience to tease out for themselves. Although the self-referentiality of the picture does serve a comic purpose, it prevents the dystopian narrative from reaching a Black Mirror level of complexity. It’s a thriller without quite enough mystery, playing more like a (very) graphic novel, a high school Sin City. It explores very complicated issues regarding both femininity and feminism, but shoves them down your throat. However, though it lacks finesse, Assassination Nation is worth watching: it flirts with our biggest fears, but still manages to have a lot of fun on the way.
Assassination Nation is released nationwide on 23rd November 2018.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Assassination Nation here: