“Assassination Nation,” Sam Levinson’s latest outing, could be roughly described in five words: Mean Girls meets The Purge. It seeks to evoke the voice of the newest generation attaining maturity, provide scathing political commentary, and all the while it keeps us entertained with buckets of blood and dark humor. This is an unquestionably difficult juggling act and there are more than a few instances where in it drops one or two of the balls, but, despite having all of the subtlety of a brick being repeatedly bashed into your head, it manages to keep things moving in a fun and interesting way.
The movie begins with a series of trigger warnings, both poking fun at and, to a degree, embracing the cultural movement towards political correctness. The setting, your typical Anytown, USA, this one being named Salem, for those viewers who had not yet gotten the message that this will not be a subtle film. Our protagonists are Lily Coulson, played by Odessa Young, and her friends, Bex, played by Hari Nef, Sarah, played by Suki Waterhouse, and Em, played by Abra, and it should be noted that these four are one of the highest points of the movie. The actresses have a definite chemistry that really helps sell every scene they’re in, from the early scenes of just them hanging out to the later scenes where they are fighting for their lives; this really helps bring some life to characters who might have otherwise been paper-thin Mean Girls stereotypes. And extra credit has to be given for Nef’s portrayal of Bex, not only for the fact that she’s a transgender actress playing a transgender character, but also because of how well the character is portrayed, making no attempts to hide her transgender status while not resorting to tokenism.
The plot of the film is where most of the brick-bashing messages reside, but as I said, it’s a fun brick to be hit with. A lot is taken from The Purge series here: the stylistic harpooning of patriotism and nationalism, the Hobbesian rapid devolution from rational beings into psychotic monsters at the slightest provocation, and the frantic fight for survival in a world that has gone way too crazy way too fast. Most of the movie’s messages have been sent before by other films: the dehumanizing effect of social media in modern life, the hypocrisy of modern conservatism, and our innate need to lash out at any and all who violate our expectations or seem to go against our values. However, “Assassination Nation” brings an interesting new take, if an admittedly heavy-handed one.
The ending is terrible though, there’s no other way to put it…it’s an attempt to be clever that just absolutely fails. Beyond that moment of idiocy, there is a lot here to enjoy in the characters, the fights scenes, and a fair amount of grim humor if you’ve got the right sense for it.
All in all, 4 out of 5. Unlikely to become a classic, but fun for the moment.