Easily the most polarizing of the Midnighters that played as part of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, writer/director Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation perfectly encapsulates the crossroads we’re currently at as a society. It’s a cinematic experience that you’re either going to be on board with or you’re not, because that’s just the type of film that Levinson delivers, and frankly, I wouldn’t want it any other way. Levinson’s horror/action/coming-of-age hybrid clearly recognizes that it’s time to stop dancing around many of the troublesome issues at the forefront of his story, and by the time the finale of Assassination Nation rolls around, it’s evident that he’s crafted something of a rallying cry that feels so vital right now. Does he always find the answers here? No, but at least we have someone out there asking some of the tough questions, and that’s very necessary right now.

At the very start, Levinson wastes no time being completely upfront about just what kind of movie Assassination Nation is going to be: bold, loud, crass, defiant, boundary pushing, and confrontational. He hits us with an onslaught of trigger warnings—everything from sexism to racism to homophobia to attempted rape to transphobia to torture, with fragile male egos even getting a well-deserved skewering here—before diving into his social media-fueled meltdown centered around high schooler Lily (Odessa Young) and her besties Bex (Hari Nef), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), and Em (Abra). There’s an anonymous hacker on the loose who’s been targeting various figureheads in their small town of Salem (I’m not 100 percent positive that Levinson has set this story in the infamous city of the same name, but there’s a clear connection here nonetheless), and once the unknown computer terrorizer sets their sights on Lily and her girl gang, all hell breaks out, culminating in a violently epic showdown.

It’s nearly impossible to break down everything we see in Assassination Nation, because Levinson goes for something I’m calling a “calculated kitchen sink approach,” where there’s a helluva lot going on, but it eventually all comes together in one way or another. Things start off a bit like the standard teen movie, where we settle in with Lily and her pals, who gab about boys and sex, but as more Salem residents see their dirty online secrets revealed, Assassination Nation transforms into something of a darkly comedic social satire. And by the time the hacker sinks their claws into Lily’s digital indiscretions, that’s when Levinson goes into full-blown horror mode, with the last 20 minutes hitting Purge-levels of brutal violence and all-out mayhem.

The biggest reason Assassination Nation works as well as it does is due to the film’s four leads, who transform from a loathsome foursome who care about no one else but their tight-knit group, into a quartet of raincoat-clad warriors who must rise up in order to put a stop to the madness that has overtaken their normally quiet town. Their respective arcs do an excellent job reflecting the overall theme Levinson infuses throughout Assassination Nation: mob rule mentality will be the downfall of us all, and that’s something that has become a huge issue on social media these days. That’s not to say that Levinson is suggesting we need to stifle our digital discourse at all, but the lesson here is that none of us are perfect, and before we set out to dogpile on whatever the latest online crusade might be, we all should take a moment to stop and think about the ramifications of our actions before we light our respective torches and grab our pitchforks. Assassination Nation’s not exactly subtle about what it’s trying to achieve with its approach, but I love that it’s completely in-your-face with its message, with a script that’s fully committed to stirring the pot.

On a technical level, Levinson has crafted something very special with Assassination Nation, incorporating bucketloads of style into his visual prose, and smartly relying on the talents of cinematographer Marcell Rév, whose ingenious camera movements fully immerse viewers into this frenetic world of sexts, texts, and selfies (there’s also a stellar home invasion sequence that completely blew my mind). His focus could use a bit of tightening, but overall Levinson delivers a visceral gut punch of a movie that will undoubtedly have people talking for years to come. Love it or hate it, there’s no way you’ll forget the events of Assassination Nation anytime soon.

Movie Score: 3.5/5


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  • Heather Wixson
    About the Author - Heather Wixson

    Heather A. Wixson was born and raised in the Chicago suburbs, until she followed her dreams and moved to Los Angeles in 2009. A 14-year veteran in the world of horror entertainment journalism, Wixson fell in love with genre films at a very early age, and has spent more than a decade as a writer and supporter of preserving the history of horror and science fiction cinema. Throughout her career, Wixson has contributed to several notable websites, including Fangoria, Dread Central, Terror Tube, and FEARnet, and she currently serves as the Managing Editor for Daily Dead, which has been her home since 2013. She's also written for both Fangoria Magazine & ReMind Magazine, and her latest book project, Monsters, Makeup & Effects: Volume One will be released on October 20, 2021.