Social media sex scandals, poisonous gossip, cyber bullying, toxic masculinity, paranoia and hysteria unite with deadly results in Sam Levinson’s post-modern millennial riff on the Salem Witch Hunt, Assassination Nation.

When an anonymous hacker maliciously airs the town of Salem’s dirty linen – every text, every sext, every selfie, every internet search history, every crudely shot amateur gonzo porno – the town spirals into hysteria and violence, the closeted, aggressively homophobic mayor blowing his brains out after being outed while the school principal is forced to resign after innocent photos of his daughter are taken out of context by a rabid MAGA-style mob of angry parents screaming “LOCK HIM UP! LOCK HIM UP!” (sound familiar…?).

Desperate for a scapegoat to blame, the town’s suspicions fall upon a sassy quartet of teenage girls; Lily (Odessa Young), Bex (Hari Nef), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) and Em (Abra). When a local computer nerd incorrectly implicates Lily in the hack it isn’t long before the local cops and jocks launch their own murderous witch hunt, forcing the girls to take up arms as intersectional feminist vigilantes fighting back against Salem’s toxic patriarchy as violence and mayhem spills onto the streets…

Opening with a barrage of trigger warnings and flashes of the mayhem to come, writer/director Sam Levinson’s achingly hip, sassy satire Assassination Nation is an angry, in-your-face, neon-splashed, lurid, media-savvy assault to the senses that simmers with rage, it’s young, too-cool-for-school protagonists subjected to doxing and double standards, persecuted for their sexuality and their intelligence, their refusal to conform, to be anything other than they are, ultimately forced to fight for survival against the misogyny and toxic masculinity that’s as American as Mom, apple pie, the Stars and Stripes and the genocide of indigenous peoples.

The performances are excellent across the board, the easy, natural chemistry between the girls bringing a note of authenticity to their friendship, a friendship that’s supportive and nurturing rather than the usual stereotypical Mean Girls-style pattern of catty one-upmanship we’re used to in films about high school girls and there’s strong support from Billy Skarsgard (far scarier here than he was in IT) and a truly slimy Joel McHale as two of Salem’s most loathsome examples of toxic masculinity. As the trans cheerleader ghosted by the quarterback, Hari Nef is easily the most sympathetic of the quartet, essentially playing an exaggerated version of her own public persona, but Odessa Young carries the film in a star-making turn as the cool, intelligent, desert-dry funny Lily, soaking up punishment in some of the film’s more disturbing scenes before dispensing some righteous vengeance.  

Bold, bloody, brutally funny and deliberately provocative, Assassination Nation mixes The Purge, The Breakfast Club, Spring Breakers, The Scarlet Letter and The Crucible into a bitter cocktail of transgressive violence, cathartic vengeance and female emancipation for the #MeToo generation suffering through the Trump era.

Movie Review: Assassination Nation
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