Equal parts “The Crucible,” “Kill Bill” and well, hell — “Carrie” — “Assassination Nation” is straight up action exploitation, a scantily clad, sexed-up slut-shamed girls satire about scantily clad, sexed-up and slut-shamed girls who get even.
Not until they first “get what’s coming to them,” of course. Amoral misfits adrift in the phony moralism of suburban East Salem, this quartet has hypocrisy issues, sex and sexuality issues and acceptance issues – even if they aren’t marched out of school the first time they show up in street-walker attire — coochie cutters and bare midriffs, plunging necklines and smart phones filled with sexually suggestive selfies. sexts, the works.
Lily (Odessa Young) is our 18 year-old narrator. She’s a girl with a boorish boyfriend (Bill Skarsgård) and a secret — an older man who sexts her under the ID “Daddy.” Yes, there are self-esteem issues, which she freely owns up to. What bugs her are her self-confessed “prudish” parents (Kathryn Erbe and Joe Crest), and hypocrites like them, adults hung up on nudity and sexuality, which of course means they’ve got their own secrets.
Their greatest hypocrisy might be criticizing others when they’re letting their daughter under-dress for school and even more so for her unsupervised, binge-drinking parties and torrid encounters with the opposite sex.
Then again, the kids aren’t exactly self-reflective at that age. They’ve never developed empathy, learned the phrase “Walk a mile in my shoes.” When the mayor’s cellphone gets hacked. nobody crows louder than Lily’s transgender BFF Bex (Hari Nef of “Transparent”). A politician who stood against LGBT rights and asserted his unimpeachable morality has J. Edgar Hoover issues, laid out by a hacker for all of Salem to see.
“It’s hilarious when that happens.”
Friends Em (Abra) and Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) are just as shallow, loving a good scandal. And when their cool, worldly principal (Colman Domingo, a stand-out turn) gets hacked? Maybe they feel something, not that the movie lets on.
But all this sexting, Instagramming nudes and what-not has its consequences, as anybody who heard of The Fappening could tell them. Casting social media overachiever/actress Bella Thorne in a supporting part, was inspired. She plays an “Insta” star cheerleader with Amazon sugar daddies (men who buy her stuff thanks to what she shows and says online), she’s set to own this social media age.
“Privacy is just dead,” she declares, utterly without irony. Old people and others living in denial of that blunt fact need to “get used to it.”
Where writer-director Sam Levinson, son of “Rain Man” virtuoso Barry Levinson (Daddy even bought him a credit, here and there) goes astray is what happens after that second community icon is hacked.
Half the town’s secrets are hurled into the ether. And the entire town is faced with disastrous marriage, career and life-threatening invasions of privacy, all at once. Mean gossip sent in secret, porn saved on their phones, those darned nude selfies, sexting under-age kids, homosexual encounters exposed to the homophobic — the works.
Somebody’s going to get blamed, and not just blamed, “purged.” Anarchy sets in without a second thought, mobs attack and punish “transgressors.” And the girls? They’re hunted.
The “Salem Witch Trials” allegory is something of a hard sell as a subtext, The “Kill Bill” connection is limited to a scene that sets it up, and the imitation that follows.
For all the first act drollery about “pressure” to be “perfect” looking in their carefully posed and lit selfies, physically and psychically impossible Lily assures us in words and in her own dressed-down (under-dressed down) appearance — armpit hair, splayed teeth, etc. — there’s not an unlimited supply of it.
Lily’s self-awareness isn’t contagious, alas. Her pals and peers and fellow townsfolk don’t appear to grasp their rush to Internet judgement, their rank hypocrisy in creating community standards they aren’t able to uphold themselves.
She can mull the nature of #flawless, and note the care she and her girlfirends put into the image they put “out there,” “but all it takes is one guy to say ‘LOL’ at your picture,” “nasty” at your sense of sexual security for the whole lie to fall to pieces, and you with it.
“You’re a man, I don’t expect you to understand” is about the end of the deep thoughts and sharp wit.
So Levinson does what many a director (his dad, on occasion, Tarantino as a rule of thumb) attempts as a means of covering up — cinematic whistles and bells. We’re treated to hand-held camera pursuits, the screen split into a triptych, amped-up action beats, suspense, horrific threats and geysers of blood.
As bracing as this “trigger warning” about the gender gap that has grown wider than the generation gap, as troubling as it is as prophecy or “the world we’re raising out kids in,” Levinson tends to squander the thoughtful, messy movie he’s been making for the vengeance fantasy he cooks up for the finale.
A lump in the throat is replaced with a roll of the eyes. So props for giving Joel McHale the role he was born to play (You’ll see.), but major demerits for bingeing on “The Purge” when you couldn’t think of anything better to do.
MPAA Rating: R for disturbing bloody violence, strong sexual material including menace, pervasive language, and for drug and alcohol use – all involving teens
Credits: Written and directed Sam Levinson. A Neon release.