There is no doubt that technology is large part of our lives whether we are glued to our phones or not. We also place automatic trust in our technology devices. We store personal, professional and public information on computers, phones, tablets etc and we share with everyone, sometimes on purpose, sometimes by accident, other times others share our information, our photos, or work without asking which can have negative and positive outcomes. Hacking is a threat to this trust we have in the internet and technology. Assassination Nation poses the question, what if a whole town was hacked? Everyone would know everything about each other and what they’ve done. The fallout from this ‘what if’ suggests that people will seek what they believe is justice. No matter the cost.
Lily, eighteen year old girl from Salem, introduces herself through an ominous voiceover than warns us about what we are about to see. A montage of grotesque and violent images play out the following will be seen in the film: sexual content, homophobia, sexism, racism, guns, transphobia, toxic masculinity, torture, the male gaze, fragile male egos; the list feels endless. The film feels self aware that it knows what it is and how it looks, very similar to voice in all this, Lily.
When half the town of Salem have their computers and phones hacked and published for everyone to see, the town spirals into mob mentality. Four friends become the main target after one of them is accused of being the hacker.
Lily and her three best friends, enjoy a ‘normal’ high school life. They discuss what they do, boyfriends, their behaviour, they are content in their bubble, even when they let their guard down. They each have their own secrets and own ‘thing’ going on, Lily receives texts from ‘Daddy’, an older man who’s child he used to babysit, Bex is spurned by a guy after they have sex at a party. As a group, from the outside, seem like typical teens but they do talk about how toxic porn is and about double standards when it comes to boys wanting oral sex but not offering the same to girls. These girls are self aware, they know who they are and know what people see.
Of all the warnings that appeared at the start of the film, the ones that stood out were ‘the male gaze’, ‘fragile male egos’ and ‘toxic masculinity’ mainly because these are all negative views about men and these subjects have becomes more mainstream discussion in more recent times. The male gaze runs rampant throughout the film, with the leads girls fetishised from their overly sexual outfits to the red plastic jackets they wear in the later part of the film. They are seen as overtly sexual but this feels like a deliberate choice rather than a statement that ‘all teen girls dress like this’. The comments about male egos and masculinity is far more apparent when the town mob immobilises. When the girls are attacked, their attackers are all male, even if they are wearing masks. Both Lily’s boyfriend Mark, who always yells at her and apologises saying he’s drunk and ‘Daddy’ violently attack her when photos of her appear in one of the hacks. Mark calls her a whore, even though he was texted her asking for nude photos. ‘Daddy’ threatens her at knife point and bemoans the fact that he didn’t even get to have sex with her yet his life is ruined because of her. The focus is always on the women and they are blamed for the town going to hell, even though the mob, ‘good people’ are mainly male.
The triumphant end doesn’t really happen in this story. The girls take a stand against the mob after rallying their own ‘female’ gang against a predominantly male mass. But there is no outright gun fight which suggests that this is a fight that never ends, and cutting to the real hacker(s). The only real jubilant moment is that the girls aren’t hiding, they are proud of who they are, as opposed to their ‘oppressors’ who all hide behind their masks. The only male that doesn’t wear a mask is a policeman but he hides behind his authority, his badge which he uses to wield his version of justice.
It would be unfair to say this film is just about social commentary or it is just an story about exploiting women. This film is an amalgamation of sub-genres such as exploitation and revenge stories, as well as the more obvious horror elements. The story is awash with characters that do exactly what you’d expect but you are still left shocked at their actions. Director Sam Levinson has managed to create a film that is both thought provoking and just straight forward provoking but despite the content warnings, its not controversial.
Dir: Sam Levinson
Prd: Manu Gargi, Aaron L. Gilbert, Anita Gou, David S. Goyer, Kevin Turen, Matthew J. Malek
Scr: Sam Levinson
Cast: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse, Abra, Joel McHale, Anika Noni Rose, Colman Domingo, Maude Apatow, Bill Skarsgård, Bella Thorne
DoP: Marcell Rév
Music: Ian Hultquist
Running time: 110 minutes
Assassination Nation is in UK cinemas on November 23