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Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 12:04 am

Timely Assassination a vicious cautionary tale

 

A primal scream from today’s generation, Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation is a film that brims with anger, a work propelled by confusion and resentment that rages against the machine that is the internet and the hypocrisy that emerges when people’s backs are against the wall. Graphic in its violence and the sexual habits of its disenfranchised teens, this clever update of the Salem witch trials is a movie that stokes the hysteria of our times as it delivers a pointed statement concerning our modern lack of privacy and the price one pays for denying your true nature.

Four witches are not at the center of the turmoil, but four teens are – Lily (Odessa Young), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), Em (Abra) and Bex (Hari Nef) – each of them disconnected from the their parents in one way or another, all trying to get a handle on their own identities amidst a plethora of mixed messages. Growing up in an era in which they’ve been told to be their true selves and to demand acceptance for who they are, each has experienced profound rejection by doing so. As a result, they have each reinvented themselves on social media, creating personae based on what they feel others want them to be. Lily is perhaps the most egregious in this area, portraying herself as a promiscuous sex kitten by displaying graphic self-portraits online, many of them directed at a texter we only know as “Daddy.”

Being transgender, Bex is confronting her own set of issues, which come to a head during a sexual encounter with a young man who’s not aware of her gender. Turns out the girls aren’t the only ones putting forth a false front; a hack of the internet account belonging to the mayor of Salem, which results in the spilling of all of his personal information into the public domain, reveals the family-values candidate to be gay. His public suicide only encourages the mysterious hacker to reveal more about the town’s many citizens, their ire rising to a fever pitch when Lily, Sarah, Em and Bex are falsely accused of being behind the leak.

Levinson gradually weaves a spell over the audience, his camera gliding effortlessly up and down the streets and inside the houses of Salem, most of it done amidst a light haze and low lighting that gives the town a feel as if it is one step removed from reality. Salem is your hometown pushed over the edge, its underbelly laid bare with its citizens’ worst traits on full display. As everyone’s secrets are made public, the madness increases, mob rule takes over, and our four heroines are hunted down as scapegoats for the town’s hypocrisy.

Audacious thematically and visually, this will not be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s portrayal of the emotionally stunted teens – wanting desperately to be adults, yet still children at heart – may seem extreme and the absence of well-adjusted peers is suspicious. However, with Lily as our narrator, her perspective is restricted to her social circle and their problems are hardly unique. Yes, they are self-absorbed, but only because they have been shunned and confused by the adults in their life, their extreme lashing out the response of a child.
It’s likely that Levinson’s film will be largely ignored because of its extreme nature and that’s a shame. It’s far from perfect – Sarah and Em are grossly underwritten characters and the film jumps the rails during its third act – yet its final image is potent and one that should be heeded. A reckoning is coming as the generational divide increases, and while conflicts such as this have occurred before, the final resolution to the conflict at Assassination’s center promises to be extreme.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

For a review a review of Life Itself, visit the Cinemascoping blog at http://illinoistimes.com.

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