Film review: Assassination Nation a visually strong moral tale that lacks emotional punch

Abra, Odessa Young, Hari Nef and Suki Waterhouse in Assassination Nation
Damon Smith

OPENING with a reverse slow-motion image of a boy riding a tricycle, which conjures memories of horror classic The Shining, Assassination Nation is a frenetic cautionary tale about the perils of baring body and soul on social media.

"I will warn you, it gets pretty graphic," purrs the film's much-abused heroine during a lurid opening salvo, which promises sexism, homophobia, attempted rape, transphobia, murder and firearms galore over the next 100 minutes.

Writer-director Sam Levinson frames his blood-soaked tale of hysteria and mob rule as a 21st-century witch trial – the film's setting is Salem, Massachusetts, to hammer home the analogy.

He plunders a visual grab bag previously used by Russ Meyer, Quentin Tarantino, The Purge franchise and Japanese director Shunya Ito in his Female Prisoner Scorpion film series.

Levinson's audacious centrepiece is a voyeuristic home invasion, shot in a single fluid take.

His camera glides around a brightly lit property, showing us masked figures sneaking up on female residents and forcibly restraining them one by one.

It's bravura film-making that might pack a bigger emotional impact if the script lavished the same attention on the characters.

Lily (Odessa Young) and best friends Bex (Hari Nef), Em (Abra) and Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) attend the same high school, where they keep one mascaraed eye on the various social media channels that dictate what – and who – is hot.

A mysterious hacker with the screen handle Er0str4us leaks the sexual peccadillos of Mayor Bartlett (Cullen Moss) with sickening consequences.

High school principal Turrell (Colman Domingo) is also exposed for his supposed crimes and then Lily receives a threatening message: "1... 2... Er0str4us is coming for you".

A data dump of private correspondence reveals that Lily has been sending revealing photographs to married neighbour Nick Mathers (Joel McHale) behind the back of her boyfriend Mark (Bill Skarsgard).

The community of Salem bays for the blood of the hacker – "We will root out this terrorist by any means necessary!" – and Lily and her gal pals unwittingly become the focal point of the mob's rage.

Assassination Nation is a relentless assault on the eyes with split screens, colour filters and hyperviolent exchanges of bullets and blades.

The girls' feminist agenda becomes muddled.

In one breath, Lily justifies drawing naked pictures of herself for an art project to Principal Turrell but she won't accept the same personal responsibility when the naked selfies she sent to her neighbour are leaked by Er0str4us. You reap what you sow and the harvest of Levinson's film is underwhelming.

ASSASSINATION NATION (18, 108 mins) Thriller/Comedy/Romance/Action. Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, Abra, Bill Skarsgard, Joel McHale, Danny Ramirez, Colman Domingo, Cullen Moss. Director: Sam Levinson.

Released: November 23 (UK & Ireland, selected cinemas)

RATING: 5/10

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