Assassination Nation (2018) **
Dir.: Sam Levinson; Cast: Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, Abra, Bill Skarsgaard, Joel McHale, Cullen Moss, Colman Domingo; USA 2018, 110 min.
Director/writer Sam Levinson (Another Happy Day) pictures small town America at its most obnoxious; sex, violence and social media run riot – his heady mixture of Heathers, The Purge and Twin Peaks suffers first and foremost from dishonesty, swerving wildly from his critique of Trump-led anti-feminism.
Set in modern Salem, Massachusetts, the witches in question are actually four 18 year-old High School girls: Lily (Young), a cheap Lolita caricature (her socks are imprinted with Fatal Attraction), and her best friends Sarah (Waterhouse),Bex (Nef) and Em (Abra). We meet Lily first in the office of principal Turrell (Domingo), defending her nude drawing of a young woman, hailed as ”pornographic” by the principal. Lily defends herself well, arguing that pure nudity can never be pornographic. So far so good. Lily and her three friends participate in the usual social media frenzy, enjoying it like everyone does. Her boyfriend (Sarsgaard) is a bullying jackass – then suddenly the narrative veers off into Lynchian territory with the introduction of Nick (McHale), a father whose daughter Lily babysits. The two exchange lurid messages, with ‘Daddy’ proposing all sorts of nasty implications. Then the conservative town mayor Bartlett (Moss) is outed as being in love with men, while wearing female stockings. Next on the list is principal Turrell, who is accused of being a paedophile because he posts photos of his little daughter on the net. The whole atmosphere suddenly morphs into wild violence, Lily and her friends being accused of being responsible for the revelations. Meanwhile, the townsmen don masks featuring the American flag, and hunt down the four girls who look just like Little Riding Hoods masquerading as a feminist death squad.
Having leered voyeuristically at the teenage girls for half the feature, Levinson then suddenly suddenly criticises the male gaze as anti-feminist. But it now seems that the female teenagers love violence as much as their male counterparts. The worst aspect of this thrill-seeker is that Levinson answers the Trumpian message of resurrected male superiority with even more violence, this time perpetrated by females. His cheap blood bath (literally) is merely an excuse to direct mayhem – and he’s brilliant at it. But it degrades any serious confrontation with anti-feminism in a male free-for-all revenge bonanza. AS
NOW ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE from 23 NOVEMBER 2018