Film Festival Movie Review

Film Review: ASSASSINATION NATION: An Absolute Mess with Fun Action Scenes [LFF 2018]

Abra Odessa Young Hari Nef Suki Waterhouse Assassination Nation

LFF 2018 Assassination Nation Review

Assassination Nation (2018) Film Review from the 62nd Annual London Film Festival, a movie directed by Sam Levinson, starring Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari NefAbra,Bella ThorneBill SkarsgardJoel McHaleMaude Apatow and Colman Domingo.

Assassination Nation kind of lives up to the first 6 letters in its title. The film tries to present itself as a thought-provoking examination of the messed-up mind state of contemporary teens. Its approach involves too much juvenileness, unwarranted and unjustified confidence and laughable exaggeration. The fact that the film takes itself seriously makes it worse than it needed to be.

A Mixed Bag That Takes Itself Far Too Seriously

The plot, if it can be called that, tries to mix teenage high-school drama, thought-provoking depiction of society and the bloody consequences of vicious gunfights. Two of those could work together but since the story is centred around high-school student drama, any chance for taking it seriously goes right out the window. Alternatively, the film-makers could have embraced the ridiculousness of the film’s narrative and action scenes, omitting their attempts to reach for a higher truth.

Instead, we see vicious scenes of people getting killed as a consequence of high-school quarrels and its ill-mannered, under-aged characters make bold, “wise statements” about the state of society. Simply put, a ridiculous mess. Assassination Nation could’ve easily been just mindless fun. Obviously, the people who made this film would’ve struggled with the creation of a compelling, serious drama. The film is reaching for much more than it can be and ends up being one of the biggest eye-rolling experiences you will likely have in a movie theatre this year.

The story revolves around four high-school girls (best friends), like in the case of any cliched teen comedy, played by Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef and Abra. The four friends get caught up in the middle of a drama, caused by a hacker who starts leaking information about everybody in their town. This situation somehow escalates into full-blown warfare, involving automatic rifles, bats smashing skulls, public hanging and so forth.

This is not a cliched story, however, as the approximately 12-year old narrator tells us, this supposedly really happened. The problem isn’t that it didn’t happen, the problem is it can’t. Although, who knows? The only people in the theatre at the London Film Festival screening that reacted positively to the film were all, you guessed it, teens. So, 10 or 20 years down the line, who knows what’s going to happen.

Solid Performances and Impressive Action

The acting in Assassination Nation is solid. The young actresses and actors believably depict the anger, fear, frustration and rarely – more positive emotions like the thrill of love that any regular teen goes through. The performers also deliver when it comes down to the scenes in which the characters are facing mortal danger. And of course, they do their best when they are handling katanas and automatic rifles and are cutting down their enemies.

That being said, high-school drama queens pumping rounds is an image that is impossible to take seriously, especially when their character development is taken into consideration. A slightly more impressive performance is delivered by Colman Domingo as the principal of the school, full of obnoxious brats.  Cullen Moss as the mayor who becomes the subject of brutal shaming in the most impactful scene of the film also stands out.

Director Sam Levinson helms the action well, particularly in a home invasion scene, which features an admittedly spectacular long take that keeps the tension going and rising. Too bad, the script he has written is so outlandish that the characters in danger are nearly impossible to care for. But even with that lowest level of fear of a character losing his life, that scene delivers, regardless of how we, as an audience, feel about the endangered protagonists.

An Extremely Unlikable Protagonist

The likeability of the main characters will depend on each viewer’s personal conception of what is appropriate behaviour for teenagers. Everybody knows that when young students get together, all sorts of inappropriate things are said. In the case of the Assassination Nation quartet, half the spoken words are affiliated with promiscuity and the other half are connected with mockery. Perhaps a second viewing is required but an actual human, relatable moment between those characters is extremely difficult or straight up impossible to recall.

The arguable protagonist of this story – Lily (Odessa Young’s character), the one whose life is spun on 360 degrees after the hacker goes after her secrets, is not someone to look up to in any way. She is a girl, who has sex with as many boys as she can get her hands on, chats to her friends about sex, discusses with them how terrible society is (as if she doesn’t have a part to play in that) and shouts to her parents how oblivious they are about the way the world works. This behaviour is presented as normal so supposedly, the film-makers’ understanding is that somehow, the audience will relate to all of this. It doesn’t work at all.

There is a baffling dinner scene in the film, in which Lilly drops some “truth” bombs to her mother and father, explaining how the world works. She is educating them through her invaluable experience acquired through social networks and high-school life. As this slut keeps shouting to her patiently-listening parents and the camera is zooming in on her as if she is Meryl Streep delivering an Oscar-winning speech, you can literally feel as your respect for this film is going down the drain.

Too Ridiculous to be Thought-Provoking, Too Serious for a Comedy

The story preaches about the state of contemporary youth but the message also fails to come through because of the bizarre narrative. It is very difficult to believe that a city will descend into chaos that results in countless deaths just because personal information is leaked. If a story wants to present its own kind of truth – an original vision of things, it has to use believable situations. What Assassination Nation does is to simply blow out of proportion the way people react.

Such a story, in which unveiled secrets lead to bloodshed can only work if most citizens of this poor town (Salem, Massachusetts apparently) have done obscene acts to each other. The film’s story feels like the wet dream of a high-school student who is angry for being humiliated and wants to take it out on the rest of the world. A great tag line for this film would be “What if high-school drama got really serious”. It would work for an action comedy, right? Well, this film has quite a bit of graphic death, tears and preaching to be considered funny at all. Someone should tell the film-makers behind Assassination Nation that high-school drama dies with prom. After that, real life, the one that matters, begins.

Assassination Nation tries to be an indictment of the rotten mentality, which certain youths possess but goes for it the wrong way. It tries to be a mindless action flick, a heavy-hitting social drama and a high-school comedy at the same time and none of those elements work coherently together. Fans of stylishly directed action should enjoy this but God forbids someone takes this film as a serious investigation into what’s wrong with society and how to approach solving these problems. That would go way beyond the acceptance of bad film-making.

Rating: 4/10

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About the author

Deyan Angelov

My name is Deyan Angelov and I am 25. I have written articles for FilmBook. I graduated from the University of London, Royal Holloway in 2014. I have worked as an air operator, sound recorder and camera operator for different TV stations. I have participated in a variety of internships at Nu Boyana Film Studios.

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