Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation has a solid cast with expert technical direction and a story that will leave you lifeless and listless when it’s over.
To understand Sam Levinson’s (Another Happy Day) Assassination Nation, we need to understand what a ‘red herring’ is. Sure, it’s a dried smoked fish, turned red by the smoke.
Turns out that that becomes an interesting depiction to apply to the story because what it starts out as is not where it ends up, for better and for worse.
Levinson, who also wrote the screenplay, leverages several social elements along with exploitative elements to show how the sleepy town of Salem descends into a pit of madness following a malicious data hack.
Odessa Young plays Lily Colson, a high schooler who is more interested in her social status and living a life of partying then she is in being a socially responsible teenager. (Who am I kidding, right?) She has a younger brother and two loving parents, but spends a lot of time with her friends, Sarah (Suki Waterhouse, The Bad Batch), Bex (Hari Nef) and Em (Abra).
Following a series of hacks, two visible politicians are brought down. Levinson makes it a point to show how the victims are shamed a ridiculed and how, even our heroes participate in these activities. As the data hacks get more bold, our heroine is exposed, which triggers the sleepy town’s downfall.
This is where the herring goes red. Levinson uses smoke and mirrors to create a visually compelling narrative, with a mixture of open, spacious yet dimly lit locations along with a number of more intimately staged scenes, Macell Rev’s quirky camerawork does the trick.
The visual elements are really a red herring though for the less than stellar screenplay. The story is overtly aware of its social elements to the point where it became ingratiating and annoying. It isn’t that these elements aren’t important to audiences. They provide the foundation for the story and our characters. Yet, the logic between the characters and the events leading to the third act have so many holes that defy logic.
The freneticism that permeated the first and second acts comes to full bear in the The Purge – lite third act and then fizzle out, leaving us to feel cheapened and exploited by a generation that has surrendered its privacy in exchange for being more interconnected, socially aware characters.
This is not a Gen X’er tooting his trumpeting horn in victory. I’m young enough that the decisions made by the generations behind me will affect me in the future. We are accelerating far too fast into the virtual ether that we don’t stop to understand the consequences of our actions.
Or perhaps, it’s that we don’t care enough to be aware of the consequences that we take action without thought. There are glimmers of hope that the story foreshadows from miles away. It gives a certain bas relief that there is a future for humanity through the thinly veiled use of socially aware concepts and relationships.
The stylized look and feel will appeal to genre fans. There were themes and some elements that struck a chord with me, but the cloying frenetic nature of the story left me cold.
Assassination Nation has been rated R by the MPAA. Now in theaters.