Photo Source: Now Toronto
Assassination Nation was a movie that got me excited, though I only remembered it when one of my friends asked me if I had heard about the movie and that he thought that it was a very ‘me’ movie. I checked out the trailer again, decisively agreed, and we went to the theater to see it opening weekend. Absolutely aware that this was a horror movie, I came armed with a safety flannel (“It’s like a security blanket, only you can wear it”) since I don’t like watching gore on screen. We went to one of the smaller local theaters with a reputation of playing more obscure movies. The theater was relatively empty, with under 10 people in the theater on a Saturday night, including us. However, by the time I got out of the theater, neither of us could stop talking about the movie. We resolved to see it a second time at some point, and I told all of the friends who would give me the time of day to tell them about how awesome this movie was and how they should go see it too and how I’ll come with them if they want and I could see it again. While not the perfect movie, Assassination Nation exceeds at being an extremely stylish, visceral, and immersive movie that needs more love.
Before I get into the review, I will note that this movie is an R-rated horror/black comedy movie. While it isn’t necessarily the most egregious gore-fest of all time, there are a couple scenes that may turn some viewers off (if you watch the red-band trailer, you can actually train yourself to see most of the worst parts coming). There are also some instances of disturbing sexual content, though there is not anything explicit other than a quick shot of a drawing of a naked woman. Only watch this movie if you are over 18 and can weather this kind of content already. As someone who has a self-proclaimed weak stomach, I could get through it with my trusty safety flannel (my friend also utilized it), but another person may feel differently.
Assassination Nation surrounds the town of Salem (yes, the town is really named Salem), a relatively normal suburban town. Things start to go into hysteria when a mysterious hacker begins to release damning private information about everyone in town. It first starts with the mayor, but soon everyone in town is exposed by this mysterious person. As secrets are revealed, people begin to grow increasingly violent and hysterical. The movie focuses mostly on a Lily (played by Odessa Young) and her three friends. This group becomes the target of the town as Lily is accused of being responsible for the leak, even though she herself has been ruined by the secrets revealed by the leak.
Where the movie shines the most is the art direction and soundtrack of the movie. Assassination Nation gives off the feeling that each of its shots feel deliberate and not simply for the sake of practical needs. One of my favorite utilizations of the camera work was in a home invasion scene, where we as the audience are watching the events from outside of the house, giving a feeling of pure terror. The other strong point was the music. Ian Hultquist creates interesting instrumentals that use electronic equipment to create a sense of foreboding or drama depending on what the movie calls for. The costume and set design is definitely something to note. The clothing on the main four girls strikes a balance between mean girls and punk rock. There were instances where I was thinking “where can I grab that shirt?”
Of course, Assassination Nation is not without its flaws. The plot of the film requires a suspension of disbelief. You have to be simply down with accepting that within the next couple weeks, a town would go from a normal place to an extreme witch hunt/revenge party and somehow everyone got into this sort of mob mentality. The immediate resort to violence is not necessarily believable. Another problem with the movie is that I think it tries to make a statement at the very end of the film that seems extremely confused. I won’t go too into it for the sake of spoilers, but I remember not being able to parse what the exact point of the message was supposed to be and the incongruity between that message and the events of the film. Perhaps the movie was attempting to tie itself together by making a grand statement for its climactic end, but the movie doesn’t necessarily build up any message-driven narrative to back its morals up.
Assassination Nation is a wild movie, to say the least and can be absolutely summed up in a phrase: style over substance. While the world of Salem is not really believable, and their attempts at social commentary is abundantly confused, the direction of the movie when it’s doing its job is spot on. The filming, costume design, and sound are a treat to look at, and when the movie is getting down to the action or horror elements, I felt sucked in. While this movie is not perfect and definitely not for everyone, I absolutely invite anyone who has been curious about the movie to go check it out.
Assassination Nation is currently showing in theaters.