Assassination Nation is like an evening spent on Facebook, an exhausting stream of righteousness and outrage presented as the status quo. It willfully exclaims all of its most outrageous moments within the first moment, flashing content warnings for all of its transgressions, letting us know exactly what we’re in for, writing a check and cashing it out the rest of the run time. Director Sam Levinson brings an easy confidence to a teen revenge film that’s punching well above its weight. In a town where half the population’s data is hacked and revealed en masse, the rest of the population turns against the victims, creating a troubling parable for the information age. What the Purge films promised, Assassination Nation delivers.
It is readily apparent why Assassination Nation was the big ticket item at this year’s Sundance. It teeters dangerously on the edge of De Palmian Dissonance, flirting with alluring split-screen shots and a beautifully composed tracking shot that provides ideal context for a terrifying home invasion. Here emerges Levinson, son of the great Barry Levinson (Rain Man), buzzing with the zeitgeist of his own generation, without falling into any usual pitfalls.
As revenge tales go, Assassination Nation takes an unusual route, employing a roguish troupe of high school girls at its center. Winning and progressive, it never needs to offer an explanation that one girl is trans (the great Hari Neff of Transparent) and another black, they are employed as a matter of fact—this is the way things are going to be done. Odessa Young confidently stands at their center as Lily, playing into the tropes of the Japanese Sukeban(girl boss) films they so love to watch together. The girls take up arms and revolt when her leaked info becomes a central focus of the witch hunt. Bill Skarsgård and Joel McHale play the two men vying for her interest quite credibly.
If Assassination Nation has any major failing, it’s that it stakes such a righteous position, you can trust it will always take the right side, that it does not challenge any political ideologies or especially pose any pressing questions. This is firmly a statement in favor of the first Information Generation, and it has their side on everything without exception. In this way, the revenge tale is an empowerment tale for a culture fed almost exclusively negative information about themselves. What is happening here is the sort of cultural shift that began with Spring Breakers and Purge and now exists without internal judgment or self-awareness but as a sign of strength.
The high-wired call for action all pays off nicely in the end. The girls show up and do astounding work as a collective. It goes to show just how much has been left on the table by other recent attempts, when this staggering, technology-wise thriller shows up with a refined technique and pulls it all together in one go. Here is a morally righteous revenge yarn worth your time for all its visual flair and kinetic energy: bring your friends.