Combustible Celluloid
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With: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse, Abra, Colman Domingo, Bill Skarsgård, Joel McHale, Anika Noni Rose, Bella Thorne, Maude Apatow, Cody Christian, Danny Ramirez, Susan Misner, Kelvin Harrison Jr., Noah Galvin, Lukas Gage, Jeff Pope, Joe Chrest, J.D. Evermore
Written by: Sam Levinson
Directed by: Sam Levinson
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing bloody violence, strong sexual material including menace, pervasive language, and for drug and alcohol use - all involving teens
Running Time: 108
Date: 09/21/2018

Assassination Nation (2018)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Can't Hack It

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Yet another movie about social media hysteria, this violent, satirical entry ramps things up, asking questions about primitive mob mentality and thirst for revenge as well as the meaning of identity.

In Assassination Nation, in the town of Salem, Lily (Odessa Young) narrates and explains that she and her three best friends, Bex (Hari Nef), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse, from The Bad Batch), and Em (Abra), may not make it through the night. In flashback, we see high school students obsessed with partying, sex, drugs, and social media. When someone hacks the mayor's computer and spreads his dirty secrets all over town, he kills himself and ignites an online firestorm.

Next, the beloved high school principal's (Colman Domingo), personal info is leaked. Then thousands of accounts are hacked, and Lily's flirty, texting relationship with an older, married man is revealed. A local computer nerd pinpoints that most of the town's computer activity is coming from Lily's home, and suddenly, everyone is out to kill her and her friends. Can the violence be stopped?

Written and directed Sam Levinson (son of Barry), Assassination Nation layers on the teen partying, sex, sex-related-talk, etc., and includes a great deal of flash, crazy camera angles, and wild editing, but somehow still does not seem exploitative. When one teen girl has sex with the boy she's been dreaming about, and it does not go as magically as planned, she's given a moment to herself to cry.

These characters are constantly on their phones, yes, but the movie is about more than the dangers of social media. It includes a quote (uncredited, but by Susan Sontag) about how 10 percent of any population is merciful, 10 percent is cruel, and 80 can be moved in either direction.

This is about how, despite people's beliefs that they are "good people," they can easily delude themselves into committing terrible acts in the name of righteousness. (Even the main character's own parents throw her out at one point.) It's a big, heavy theme to place on the heads of four teen girls in a violent, dark comedy, and the movie sometimes gets smooshed under the weight, but it's undeniably visceral, undeniably effective, and undeniably timely.

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