Sam Levinson’s latest film, Assassination Nation, is a cautionary-yet-bloody tale of a modern day version of the Salem witch trials – the film is unflinching and tackles heavy ideas of patriotism, masculinity and privacy.
Surprisingly, the film opens with a quick cut montage of warnings to the spectator: racism, murder, sexism and the male gaze. The film is set in a Salem, with obvious parallels to the horrors of it’s past witch trials – Levinson takes on a rather satirical-teenage centred tone in dialogue and visuals with the perspective seeing through the fours girls eyes. Whilst the cliches may be more noticeable, which have defiantly been done on purpose – it tackles deeper ideas as an allegory for the political and social views of sexuality.
We follow a group of best friends: Lily (Odessa Young), Bex (Hari Nef), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), and Em (Abra) which starts with the leaking of the Mayor’s data which vastly opposite his strong anti-gay rules, followed by the Principal, then as you can imagine it ramps up and the hacker releases over half of Salem’s population’s data online for everyone to see. No one is safe.
Vividly stylised in the cinematography and use of editing, creating a strong link to the sporadic nature of revenge and identity. Furthermore, the film retains a self referential element throughout, notably with multiple sequences use of music.
The town riots in anger over the actions of certain individuals, with going as far as doing a Michael Myers and literally hunting down individuals. Lily becomes the centre target for the town as she gets pinned on as the hacker, with the large amount of people being male (some female) all feeling absolutely betrayed and embarrassed, the town’s people take this as a chance for brutal revenge. There is a ever present sense of hysteria, but not in the females contrasting to the past belief that tells us hysteria is only a female thing – but this element is vividly seen in the countless men, spiraling into absolute mania.
The use of violence is rather extreme, yet justified in it’s morally complex telling of this tale. With the first act of violence creating a riveting need for more due to the sheer level of injustice upon especially Lily. The film stylises and uses blood as a stylistic device in it’s bright aesthetics, but also as a contrast to the links to femininity in menstruation as traditionally connected to (Little Red Riding Hood). Levinson subverts that idea in symbolism of how the men are weaker than these four nightmarish hunters, by the end of the film.
Additionally, there is a real sense of sisterhood in the little key moments of freedom as they throw away all outside influence as they lay side by side. These girl talk scenes act as a breathing space for the spectator and the characters from the ever growing nightmare in Salem. With mystery in all the chaos, vividly there are clear symbols of phallic nature that is emphasised by the exploration of sexuality mainly through the male gaze.
The film is littered with references to film’s of the past, most notably John Carpenter’s ‘Halloween’ with Levinson bringing to life an incredible set piece lasting for a long while creating tension as the spectator views from the perspective of the surrounding assailants – creating a dying sense of frustration as we lay unable to help, this stabilised tracking shot is a pure wonder in cinematography. The opening has a clear homage to Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ with a child cycling on a mini-bike down the street, these little homages deepen the horror in this female-revenge film.
The film is extremely timely with the concepts in society and politics it tackles, as it acknowledges the anger in the American people in the political system with the the quartet of girls taking charge as they are left isolated in this mob-like town.
It is a stylised-bloody allegory of modern America, exploring sexuality through the male gaze.
Assassination Nation is in cinemas November 23rd in the UK, distributed by Universal Studios