Assassination Nation is not a film that’s all that big on hidden meanings. Quite the opposite — it’s a teen film that fires multiple broadsides at the ills of Trump’s America and (mostly) hits its targets. As subtle as a sledgehammer, sure, but have you spent much time around teenagers lately? This is a film as aggrieved at the world as any teenager who’s left wondering what horrors, if high school’s supposed to be the highlight of your life, await in adulthood.
In the first half, as we follow Lily (Odessa Young) and her friends through aimless partying in a typical movie high school, writer/director Levinson doesn’t so much lay his cards on the table as throw them at you — and the table for good measure.
Lily is one of those movie teenagers given to monologuing about the themes of the film. In a rare misstep, Levinson tries to ape current Twitterspeak, which, given the life expectancy of memes, means it can feel oddly dated. The likes of Heathers were smart enough to invent futureproof slang, but there’s a touch of Juno syndrome here.
It will keep cultural studies departments busy for years.
With those provisos, a lot of Lily’s sermonising does hit home. It’s not hard to imagine a 17-year-old girl, fed-up from being pestered for pictures of her arse, punching the air as Lily articulates just how bloody annoying it can be to be a girl in the smartphone era.
Toxic masculinity is here diagnosed as the major problem with contemporary America: as the contents of the town’s phones are revealed to be mostly personal Pornhubs, the men go from toxic to virulent to downright psychotic. One superb one-take house siege feels like a classed-up Purge outtake, and it's alternately funny and unnerving how easily the iconography of social breakdown around the world transplants onto suburban America. One ballsy scene links contemporary struggles with history by having a trans character almost lynched: moments like this will keep cultural studies departments busy for years.
As with all satires, though, it’s interesting to note what’s not addressed. When Lily et al defend themselves with an arsenal of guns, it seems not to occur to Levinson that photographing firearms as tools of cathartic violence might be morally iffy. And for such a wide-ranging film, there’s another curious oversight. All the selfies, sexts and posts of the various characters are essentially part of a massive data gathering operation on behalf of a handful of companies. Wouldn’t it be interesting if they asked who’s been profiting from driving them mad? And turned their fury on them, rather than each other?