As the lights were coming up on Assassination Nation, I was thinking to myself. Nope. Not gonna write about that one. Wow. Too far gone. Too far down the proverbial rabbit hole. Too much horrendous gore and promiscuity. Too much of really everything.
But as those aforementioned lights came up. As they light the seats, I saw two kids poke their heads up and look around. Yes, I am old. But, by kids, I don’t mean 18 year olds. I’m talking 8 and 10 year olds. Their mother was texting, while their eyes were adjusting to the lights. And I thought, yup. I have got to write about this one.
If you don’t know what Assassination Nation is, it’s basically a thought experiment discussing what would happen if everyone’s private, secret, stuff on their phone, got dumped out on to Main Street, in front of absolutely everyone. You brain doesn’t have to think about it too long before you realize just how crazy that would get. Well, that is literally, exactly, where this movie goes. But trust me when I say, this movie isn’t for the faint of heart. I think I gagged once or twice there was so much Technicolor blood and errata imbruing the lead’s entire body. It was a gory, bloody, Old Testament level blood sacrifice, levels of blood and entrails. It was something to behold.
Assassination Nation and the Salem Witch Trials
First things first. I don’t care what anyone says, this movie is not a Purge remake. This is a Salem Witch trials remake. Not familiar with the SWT? Well, basically, it was a period of hysteria-filled accusations and accurals that hit colonial Massachusetts in the years of 1692 and 1693. Eventually the fomenting craze accused over 200 people of witchcraft, and found 19 guilty, and were summarily hanged as a result. The book highlights the craze. Of which, the key detail being, that it was primarily teenage girls – like Elizabeth Hubbard (17 at the time) who had been accused, and who ultimately implicated others while under duress. The period showed our possibilities of being influenced under a craze of mass hysteria and has had a profound impact on our country, and the fabric of who we are as a people.
With that said, what is Assassination Nation, and how is it related to SWT? It’s literally, exactly the same, except that, instead of Satanism and witchcraft, we have a moralistic tumult as a result of widespread phone hacking and data release. So demon possession is the widespread sexual and immoral proclivities of the mythical town, and high school, of Salem.
Blitzkrieg Walkthrough of Assassination Nation
The first third of the film is about the wild chaos of the kids of Salem. The partying. The sex. The drugs. Is this the moral equivalent of the teenage girls dancing their ritualistic bacchanalian dances in the woods from the Salem Witch Trials? Yeah, I think this is safe to say, that this is definitely what the opening of the movie is all about.
But then the Mayor of the town’s phone gets hacked and released to the public. And apparently he was into some pretty crazy, homosexual sadomasochistic craziness. Well, when he heads out to do a press conference, he commits suicide… basically the kick off of the craziness that this movie commences with. Next, the photo stream, and web history of Salem High School’s principal (played by Colman Domingo) is released. And when he refuses to back down, or quit, the town seems to explode in hatred. (Did I mention that the principal is black as well?)
Then Comes The Hysteria
To be 100% honest with you, I didn’t fully grasp the way this played out completely. But it seemed to me, through interlaced fingers covering my eyes, that when everyone’s stuff got released, the culprit didn’t release Lily’s (played by Odessa Young) information. But it didn’t matter, because Nick’s information was released.
Now, if that connection confused you, then you missed the seminal reveal of the entire movie. Because Lily was “dating” Mark (played by Bill Skarsgard) throughout the entirety of the movie. But simultaneously, she was texting with someone she named Daddy in her feed. But who is this Daddy? Well, we learn that Mark is Daddy, which, is horribly bad, because Lily babysat for Mark’s daughter in the past. And who is decidedly married, and in a supposedly happy marriage. So when Nick’s photos get released, people on Reddit begin hunting down who she is, and they discover who it probably is because of her necklace. Later it is confirmed for sure when Mark forces Lily to show them a birthmark on her back that matches some of the photos she sent to Nick.
The Police, determined to bring to justice the person that released the information, go after Marty (played by Noah Galvin). But Marty basically threatens the police, and that is when the mob then comes after him in order to get him to tell them who did it. And Marty, points the finger at Lily as the one that hacked everyone’s information. (I’m sorry, no offense to trendy girls everywhere, but Lily was about as likely to be able to pull of this hack as I am able to sell girl scout cookies door to door. Not happening.) But everyone decides she did it… and so the blood rage explodes in the town.
Single Best Shot in Assassination Nation
I gotta say, that this wasn’t an auteur’s dream, for sure. And I didn’t expect great film making here at all. But there was one shot, that I adored. It was probably a five minute take, and must have been horrible to put together and stage. So let me set this up for you. Lily and her friends are at Em’s (played by Abra) house with her mother (played by Anika Noni Rose). The false information that Lily did it has been released, but no one knows yet. And the shot is outside, looking in. At first it is internally focused, but soon we get a sense that others are beginning to poor into the yard, and onto the balcony, and around the corner and in the backyard. They are looking for a way in. And simultaneously the girls are trying to set the security alarm. But it won’t set because doors are open, or windows are open, because these attackers are attempting to get in. It must have been done on a crane of some sort. The movement and the radius of the coverage was really phenomenal. So, my hat’s off to you Marcell Rév and your shot there. It was nothing but perfection. To watch the struggle unfold from the outside in, and have the vantage of the attackers was nothing but sheer brilliance. Here, there happens to be an anatomy of a scene walkthrough with the writer and director Sam Levinson telling us how they pulled it off.
The Ending of Assassination Nation Explained
Well, jump to, Em’s mother is dead, and all the girls are captured save for Lily. And Lily crawls her way over to Nick’s house for protection. Only to find out that Nick’s wife (I assumed it was his wife – was his daughter in there too?!?) is dead in the bathtub. Well, Lily slits Nick’s throat, in the vilest scene of the movie. By far.
Bex, simultaneously, is about the be hanged by Diamond – who was being pressured into it by his football friends after they found that he had sex with Bex (who is transgender). But ultimately Diamond tells his friends he won’t do it, and tries to free her from the noose. But that doesn’t work, and soon Bex is about dangle. But, in a massive divergence from the Salem Witch Trials, Lily finds a massive weapons stash at Nick’s house, that she uses to free the girls. And they storm the site where they are about to kill Bex, and save her. There is one more scene where the girls, and an onslaught of other women behind them, converge on the riotous mob which are about to go toe to toe, and with that the movie ends.
But What Does Assassination Nation Mean?
The movie does quite a lot of posturing about women’s rights to be who they want to be, and do what they want to do and not suffer the moral arrows that are so quickly fired their direction afterwards. Basically its a call to action and an arming of the #MeToo movement. Which, seems like a natural progression of the momentum of the movement. At least in film anyway. And while I do believe that the moral posturing is fairly hilarious in its duplicity, at the same time, it seems like we are trying to have our cake and eat it too.
Let’s take it back to the Salem Witch Trials. There was an insanity in that, which has its parallels here in our society today. Society goes into a shark attack mode, with eyes rolled back, and teeth out, snapping and biting at anything and everything that seems abhorrent to them. And the consequences of this response ended up with almost twenty humans dead as a result. Our rabid moralizing has caused many more deaths than just those twenty over the years, that is for sure. The questions that Assassination Nation are bringing up are interesting. Brings back to mind the hacking of Ashley Madison and other online sex services companies. We, as a society have avowed, collectively, that God is dead, and yet, morality is not? Or maybe we just want to be judgmental, and holier than though? Is that what the movie is discussing? Our latent superiority and joys at other people’s failings (schadenfreude)? Is that what the movie is screaming against?
But there was another story there, underneath the louder more violent strains. The murmur of the desire to be seen and to be loved in spite of our failings. And it was that chord that rippled through the entire film that made the most sense to me. We are talking about girls who’s parents are disconnected and disengaged. And when they are engaged, they care about all the wrong things. (Lily gets thrown out of her house when her sexting with Nick are broadcast for the world to be seen.) Personally, that’s my daughter? I’d be wondering where I went wrong in trying to show love to my daughter that she decided she needed to get it from a married man, as opposed to throwing her out of the house. But maybe I’m weird in that way. Dunno. But I do believe that the real story here is this epidemic of lost children to the whims of the internet. To the lost passions of these 1’s and 0’s. To the likes, and the comments. It has reached epidemic levels. It really is extraordinarily sad.
What’s even sadder? Is that our parents believe our 8 year olds can go to see movies like this one without giving it a care in the world. Call me a prude, but my 10 year old daughter is still watching Disney animated movies. Why are we letting them all grow up so fast these days? Our daughters, our sons are valuable, worth protecting. They are gloriously important and we should do everything in our power to protect their hearts for as long as physically possible.
But forget all that. The problem with the movie Assassination Nation is that while the movie charts the course of the Salem Witch Trials it works well. The audience’s moral indignation in response to the poor treatment of these women are actively engaged and at the ready. But the moment they leave the well known path of the Salem Witch Trials, and they arm up to combat the troglodytes at their own game? They lose. The movie loses. The script and the dialog goes all wobbly. It’s clear that the director isn’t sure how to pull this triple gainer off. It just doesn’t work. But maybe I’m still too busy worrying about the two small children watching this carnage a couple of rows in front of me. Who knows.
What did you think of the film? Was it worth our attention or discussion?
Edited by, CY