LFF 2018: The Salem Witch Trials Get A 21st Century Makeover In Assassination Nation

Credit: Universal Pictures / Neon

If someone told you today that an American town was thrown into anarchic chaos after the cell phones of more than half its population had been hacked and their private messages and photos had been released, you wouldn’t doubt it for a second. You’d gobble up the gory details before moving on.

Assassination Nation (dir. Sam Levinson) tells the story of four friends: Lily (Odessa Young), Bex (Hari Nef), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), and Em (Abra). They’re young, wild, loud, promiscuous, and they don’t care who sees or hears them. All they truly care for is each other.

Their lives are turned upside down when the mayor of Salem falls victim to a hacker who releases his private photos, search histories, and messages online, which shows the mayor’s love for women’s lingerie and younger men. Shortly after it’s the principal whose most private moments are publicized, and as a result both men’s lives and careers are ruined.

Soon half the city has been hacked and everyone’s secrets, kinks, and nudes are online – and everyone loses their mind. But it isn’t until the school, and ultimately the rest of the town believes that Lily and her friends are behind the hacks that the shit hits the metaphorical fan.

The young women are on the run from their classmates, the town’s police, its citizen, and even their lovers. Things get freaky in Salem as a literal witch hunt forces Lily and her friends to fight back.

Assassination Nation might be the most ridiculous over-the-top action comedy you will see all year. With a great ensemble cast that, apart from the four ladies-in-charge, includes Bill Skarsgard, Joel McHale, Bella Thorne, Colman Domingo, and Cody Christian, this film takes the Salem witch trials of the 1690s and gives them a 21st century spin.

In the opening scenes the movie issues a plethora of trigger warnings, and boy, do they deliver on those. The movie is bloody, it is gory, it is offensive as hell, and shows discrimination against almost every minority there is. And yet this movie is a whole lot of fun. Because while Lily, Bex, Sarah, and Em face everything from sexism, transphobia, homophobia, racism, toxic masculinity and America’s rape culture, they don’t let that intimidate them, or corrupt their (admittedly loose) morals. When Bex is faced with the chance to kill her tormentor, she spares him – a true sign of strength. Thankfully the girls’ friendship prevails until the bitter end, and together they are a force to be reckoned with.

The core characters’ performances are a delight all the way through, with a development from sassy school girls to cold-blooded war-machines. The young talent plays off each other so well, it almost has the “adults” in the cast breathlessly trying to catch up.

Assassination Nation is a visually pleasing, stylish, almost noir-ish social commentary on the world as we know it. It is refined feminism with its leading ladies in full charge. It delivers horror and shocks and gasps and laughs, so many laughs. It is just bonkers, violent, and extreme enough to become an instant must-watch for cult fanatics – you know, ‘for the lolz’.

This instant classic feels like an even darker, even bloodier, even nastier Heathers, made for a fresh, young, and angry audience driven by social and political awareness, as well as social media obsession.

Assassination Nation hits UK theatres November 23, 2018.

Verena Cote
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