BFI London Film Festival ’18: ‘Assassination Nation’ Is A Liberal Feminist’s Wet Dream

The lives of teenage girls are increasingly entangled with various forms of violence. Whether it be through the sinister undercurrents of body shaming amplified by the internet, the very literal brutality at the hands of boys and men, or the obsessive hatred of their typical interests by the media, young women have a lot to struggle with as they grow up. Directed by Sam Levinson in only his second directorial output, Assassination Nation takes this theoretical violence and manifests it in a gory, stylised take on the revenge of a generation bombarded with gendered hate. 

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Lily (Odessa Young) is a high schooler obsessed with so-called ‘selfie culture’. Her life revolves around the attention she gains both from her teenage boyfriend Mark, and from the grown man she calls ‘Daddy’ behind Mark’s back. Her best friend, Bex (Hari Nef) has her own relationship issues; the boy she likes is insisting they keep their sexual relationship private due to the fact that Bex is transgender. Together with Em (Abra) and Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), the girls form a refreshingly diverse and positive friendship group in a world where teenage girls are expected to view each other as competition for male attention.

The true enemy of this story soon becomes apparent. After an unknown hacker leaks compromising photos of a local political candidate, the dominoes begin to fall on the town’s sanity, as more and more victims of the leak are uncovered and promptly shamed. Lily is horrified when ‘Daddy’ is hacked and she finds sexually explicit photos of herself spread across the pages of reddit, soon to be discovered by all of her friends and family. Through the safety of anonymity and group harassment, she is subject to the most abhorrent objectification, which culminates in threats to her life. 

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The situation turns murderous a little too quickly, but Levinson keeps on top of it through an almost cartoonish approach to conflict that borders heavily on comedy, as he derails from any concept of naturalism and focuses instead on a fictionalised representation of very real gendered violence. When the girls battle their way through men ready to literally kill them for taking nudes, we are reminded that these themes are based entirely in truth, and can’t help but wonder how quickly society would collapse into chaos if such a widespread hacking did occur. 

Despite the biting social criticism, Assassination Nation never considers itself to be above pure unadulterated fun. After the buildup of fear and hate, witnessing Lily and her friends finally fight back is euphoric, playing out like a “Girls Kick Ass” liberal-feminist wet dream. Skepticism is pushed aside by the purity of the message the film is trying to deliver, in a blood-splattering explosion of teenage rage. These girls, who have been through hell and back, are ready to get revenge by any means necessary – and god, is it hard not to love them.

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