As of right now, I’m probably going to be the only one that you’ve heard of or know that thought ASSASSINATION NATION was a brilliant piece of filmmaking. But I’m not too upset about it. I’m going to give it time. Time to hit home platforms and seep into the minds of those that like to “discover” little art house films like these, and then go off, brag to, and convince their friends that they have to watch it right this second. I can always say that I was there opening night (almost by myself, only two other people in a mostly empty theater) and say they actually saw something ambitious and original. This movie, this movie plays directly to our times, yelling and screaming at us that all it takes is a little push to descend everyone into utter madness, and that we aren’t doing shit about it. It is a film that, at the drop of a time, switches genres, and does it so effectively that each transition blends into the other where you can’t even tell what is happening before it is too late. You have Eli Roth on the last end of his pitiful rope doing a “horror” kids movie that doesn’t look like much fun, you have Michael Moore going around and screaming into a bullhorn at people a bunch of things that you probably already know about or have read on CNN, and you have Life Itself, which is just This Is Us sappy and stupid bukake all over your face. Assassination Nation is the only good work coming out this weekend, and none of you are destined to see it.
I don’t know the outcome of how this movie will be looked upon in the future actually. It’s just a simple guess. Instead of it being really appreciated over time it could fall into the “meh, it was alright” category. You never know how these things will be perceived. I mean, when Austin Powers hit theaters in Summer of 1997, it completely tanked at the box office. But when it hit home video, it exploded into two sequels that made a shit ton of cash and made Mike Myers, albeit briefly, funny and relevant again. And it could be is that I went really deep into this movie, trying to dissect it and convey what it was trying to tell me each moment with images, dialogue, shots, camera angles, etc. I just really really enjoyed it for what it was. There is this tremendous tracking shot that lasts a couple of minutes outside a house a couple of girls are staying in that was mesmerizing to watch. I just…I don’t know…have you ever had one of those films that just hit you, and it has hit no one else, and you feel like you have your own special little movie that no one can or is going to try and take away from you? This is it.
If you haven’t heard of Assassination Nation, the plot is very simple. In the town of Salem (yes, this movie is a great sort of riff on the Salem Witch Trails), half of the town’s populations information, texts, snapchats, Twitter’s, pictures, Facebook’s are hacked and all released to the masses. Four high school girls find themselves at the heart of it, and start to see the town slowly at first, but then amped up to shit go bat shit crazy, trying to figure out who hacked them all. The movies message is quite clear: how this country is at the brink of chaos and pandemonium, and how that seems to be acceptable as the new norm. Judging by the trailer, it looks as though this movie goes all out once it starts and never lets up until the end credits. Not true, I thought it was a very slow burn type of narrative. It starts out as sort of a meta comedy, transition into a too real episodic drama, then into a horror/thriller, then into a bit of a actioner, and then finally goes full circle with the last six haunting words in the film back into a meta comedy. There are problems in this film, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it is perfect, in fact, I would say that characterization is a huge problem in this film, as there aren’t really many characters arcs, and the ones that are seemed a little too rushed and not fully formed nor realized. There is one scene in the film that I love, where the girls’ principal is accused of being a pedophile because he has a naked picture of his six year old playing in the bathtub and the main character Lily has this whole discussion with her family at the dinner table on what exactly is pornography nowadays. It’s quite eye opening.
But the acting is quite good. Out of the four girls, only Odessa Young and Hari Nef get enough screen time to get some awesome dialogue quippy chewing, scene stealing moments. Abra and Suki Waterhouse (who is a staple of these films produced by Neon, as she was the lead in the recent film I dug The Bad Batch), are in the film a lot but don’t have very much to say or any time to develop at all. You probably don’t know any of those girls, so let’s get to the people in the film you do know. Bella Thorne gets the “and” credit on the poster here, and just like most “and” people on movie posters she isn’t in the film very much, maybe three scenes, one of the scenes though she has a very good little speech about privacy that hits right on the nose with today’s society. Joel McHale and Pennywise himself, Bill Skarsgard, have the “with” titles on the poster but they get actually more screen time than you might think, McHale playing totally out of character with what he usually does, and Bill Skarsgard stepping back in age playing the boyfriend of the main character Lily, and showing us that if given the right role, he could be a tour de force in a film if he ever becomes a leading man.
One that sees this might tell you that the movie ends too soon or doesn’t end on the right moment. I beg to differ. I think it ends exactly where it should, and gives you enough context clues in the very last short scene to tell you what happened. This isn’t a movie like Kill Bill where you see the 4 girls in the trailers just massacring a entire town with bullets. I know that is what the trailer makes it look like where the film is going to go, but writer/director Sam Levinson subverts those expectations to bring something, while still a bit outlandish, a little more realistic. I do know that a message does not make a movie. Look at Sorry To Bother You, it had a huge message, but the execution was way, way, way off and boring. This film has a message and uses filmmaking and its techniques to get that message across in a thought provoking yet exciting way. If you want to say something, you can’t just be Michael Moore with a bullhorn, with some jokes about issues audiences have already heard way too much about, you need to do something outside of the box. Assassination Nation is that something.