By MONTE YAZZIE
French new wave auteur Jean-Luc Godard is often attributed with the phrase “All you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun.” This simplistic narrative design has been exploited throughout film history, applying it to numerous genres yet often keeping the two motivating factors of a girl and a gun separated.
However, in today’s social climate, a better comment might be “All you need to make a movie is a girl WITH a gun.”
Director Sam Levinson takes the topic of “a girl with a gun” and amplifies everything up to eleven, making a hyper-stylized film about four girls who live an indulgent, manipulated and exploited existence.
They live in a town filled with people who exude the worst qualities found in society today; entitlement, bullying, vanity, violence, racism and all manner of phobias involving femininity. “Assassination Nation” is aiming for the target of empowerment and social consciousness, but often misses the mark entirely.
Lily (Odessa Young), Bex (Hari New), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) and Em (Abra) are a fearless feminist foursome of young ladies trying to survive the woes of high school. Then a hacker starts revealing all the secrets of people around the town of Salem. Things go from already worse to some kind of chaotic nightmare where the young ladies must fight and kill for their lives.
The film, with its neon lighting effects and split screen photography has a purposeful frantic pacing that can mute the film’s tone, making the viewer unaware of what it is trying to accomplish.
While it seems to understand the current cultural climate, with its thematic focus on the degradation and disrespect of women of all ages, the filmmaking is so uneven that it never completely grasps this purpose. Instead we are provided with shocking violence and leering camera angles set against music video styled motifs and slow-motion photography.
In moments it offers interesting frames, like a home invasion scene that pulls and pushes around and through the landscape of the home in ingenious ways. However, it mostly feels like an exercise in gratuity without the purpose to make it have thoughtful impact.
The film does boast some great performances from the leads, especially from Odessa Young who turns it into a star-making role as Lily. Her coolness amidst the youth and disillusionment with the world around her are fascinating to watch as life is thrown from bad to worse.
Comedian Joel McHale also provides an interesting performance as a hate filled, misogynistic man who has an unhealthy relationship with Lily.
“Assassination Nation” can be a difficult and infuriating experience at times, which seems to be its primary purpose as the film descends into madness. It culminates into an unsettling final act that unleashes all the terrible societal characteristics one might encounter when asking questions about religion or politics on social media.
“Assassination Nation” feels influenced by films like Larry Clark’s “Kids,” or Catherine Hardwicke’s “Thirteen,” but it doesn’t have the tact or insight found in those films. Instead, it has style and flair that is flashy and enticing, wielding narrative haymakers in hopes of hitting a mark. It’s unfortunate that the interesting ideas it proposes about youth, feminism, sexuality and identity in a social media driven world aren’t better corresponded.
Dir: Sam Levinson
Starring: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse, Abra, Colman Domingo, Bill Skarsgård, Bella Thorne, Maude Apatow, and Joel McHale
2.00 out of 5.00