Hyper-realised, ultra-violent and ultra-feminist, Assassination Nation is bound to push most viewers away. Sam Levinson’s film is a provocative, bloodsoaked and powerful battle cry for all women to unite against patriarchy. Men are also welcome. Rapists, misogynists and asshats, not so much.
In the centre of Assassination Nation are four young women. Lily, a flirtatious girl with secret, Bex, a trans girl, and presumably adoptive sisters Em and Sarah. All our heroines, like the rest of the world, live their lives online and through their phones. Their phones contain their most valuable and embarrassing secrets. So when a hacker first hits the town mayor, the school principal and eventually about half the town’s population, the violence somehow turns towards women, including our protagonists.
Assassination Nation is definitely one of the craziest films out there. It’s a strange piece of cinema, like a revenge film on crack cocaine. It’s going to be polarising with it’s strong feminist message and it’s bound to be too much for many viewers because it’s just so in your face. A feel good film this is not, my friends. Prepare your senses for the sensory overload the film throws at your face. Assassination Nation reveals the ugliest possible truth and reality of patriarchy and misogyny by shoving it down your throat because what else can we do at this stage? It’s a painfully timely film, one that you hope wouldn’t resonate as strongly as it does. Levinson’s film constantly tip toes the line between making violence towards women a spectacle and simply using it to point out how messed up the world we live in is and how close to a reality like this we actually are. At times brilliant, at times shaky, it makes for an uncomfortable, but cathartic watch. Levinson fills his film with some powerful images and while some dialogue doesn’t quite sit right in the actors’ mouths, there are some truths spoken here.
The film works as a biting satire of our lives online. How can we allow so much sensitive information out there where it can be stolen in an instant? What ever happened to diaries we could lock or hide in the bottom of a sock drawer? The scariest thing about Assassination Nation is that while it’s so hyper-stylised, it still feels accurate in its depiction of constantly being online and building your identity in front of everyone. Do we even exist if we’re not online?
In the end, it all comes down to how the society treats women and while I really want to say that Assassination Nation is over the top and unrealistic in its approach to misogyny, I can’t. It feels familiar, terrifyingly so. The film is very much about the female experience of being ridiculed, sexualised without our consent and constantly under the male gaze. Assassination Nation hits all the right notes about this, especially in today’s political climate. There is a fantastic scene (which apparently is getting cut from theatrical versions) where our protagonist Lily schools the school principal over a drawing of a naked woman. Assassination Nation dares to ask why do we sexualise women, what is so wrong about the naked female body?
Director Sam Levinson does something risky with the material. He presents our protagonists as the easy victims, the ones who may have brought this on themselves. For years, decades even, we have been fighting to prove that rape, assault, harassment or just unwanted attention isn’t due to our looks, behaviour, time of day or any other factor than the attacker and the attacker alone. And here Levinson shows us these girls in tight tops, plenty of skin to show and shorts so short Harley Quinn would feel self-conscious. Their bodies are the enemy in the beginning of the film, it’s a threat to the patriarchy in Salem. They young women are overly sexual and by horror film rules, they must be punished. Levinson is asking us to blame these girls for what’s to come. And shame on you if you fell for this. Shame on you. Thankfully, these girls aren’t here for your hate and fear. They fight back. They reclaim their sexuality and harness their female power to fight Salem’s patriarchy. The image of the middle-aged white cop shouting “We’re good people!” feels unnaturally timely. A mob screaming they’re fine people while commiting murder and heinous hate crimes. It seems too close to reality.
Ultimately Assassination Nation is an empowering experience. A fist-pumping joyride, Assassination Nation is all about our heroines taking back what was theirs to being with: their freedom. Freedom to express themselves, freedom to be sexy, freedom to be whoever you want to be without the threat of physical violence. I would imagine that most men would find it too much, too serious, too stupid, too this, too that. But to anyone who has ever been harassed, hurt, grabbed or assaulted, this is a much needed cry to unite our forces. To keep fighting, to keep resisting. Assassination Nation feels like an acknowledgment that we exist and we are rightly angry. We will fight, there is strength in numbers and we can’t be silenced. As Lily says, you can’t kill us all.