In ‘As­sas­si­na­tion Na­tion,’ teen women gun for em­pow­er­ment

Chattanooga Times Free Press - ChattanoogaNow - - MOVIES - BY GARY THOMP­SON THE PHILADEL­PHIA I NQUIRER ( TNS)

“As­sas­si­na­tion Na­tion” peaks early, with a funny pro­logue full of help­ful trig­ger warn­ings about im­pend­ing sex, vi­o­lence, racism, and threats to the “frag­ile male ego.”

It ac­cu­rately her­alds the anar­chy to fol­low, a “Heathers” meets “The Purge” meets Russ Meyer free-for-all that takes el­e­ments of the Salem witch tri­als and trans­poses them to the age of the in­ter­net. That’s a lot to take on, and there are di­min­ish­ing re­turns by the time the movie reaches its bloody con­clu­sion.

The film takes place in a town called Salem (palm trees sug­gest it’s not New Eng­land) where a quar­tet of 18-year-old fe­male friends at­tend school by day and he­do­nis­tic par­ties by night. Writer-di­rec­tor Sam Levin­son shows us the pro­ceed­ings as an iPhone might, cre­at­ing an at­mos­phere of ca­sual sur­veil­lance. And what we see of­ten re­sem­bles how so­cial me­dia re­ca­pit­u­lates events — fil­tered and dis­torted, with sub­jects who have in­ter­nal­ized the idea that their pri­vacy has been sac­ri­ficed to terms of ser­vice.

But se­crets do per­sist. Lily (Odessa Young) gets sexts from a per- son named “daddy,” and re­sponds with tit­il­lat­ing self­ies. Her friend Bex (Hari Neff), a young trans woman, is hook­ing up with an in-the-closet foot­ball star. The town mayor has se­crets too, and so may the high school prin­ci­pal. All are re­vealed when a hacker siphons up the town’s dig­i­tal se­crets and posts them on­line. There is an erup­tion of para­noia and anger, and the four young women be­come the fo­cus of the town’s rage and wrath.

There’s a barely cir­cum­stan­tial logic to this, but that’s part of Levin­son’s point. The town’s anger needs an out­let and a tar­get, and young women are just as likely to be ir­ra­tionally/con­ve­niently sin­gled out to­day as they were hun­dreds of years ago, in that other Salem.

Levin­son, though, is not ex­actly T.S. Eliot. Lily gets a few de­cent mono­logues about the prob­lems fac­ing women in a time of dan­ger­ously mixed mes­sages, but “As­sas­si­na­tion Na­tion’s” jour­ney to em­pow­er­ment takes a long de­tour through the kind of leer­ing ex­ploita­tion it ar­gues against. (The school is ruled, nat­u­rally, by a jock-oc­racy of fas­cist bros.)

There is a re­pul­sive scene, for in­stance, of Lily hav­ing a de­ci­sive en­counter with her on­line “daddy,” a flimsy and odi­ous setup to a spasm of score-set­tling vi­o­lence. The film means to strike a blow for women, but there must be a way to do that with­out the spec­ta­cle of one girl bash­ing an­other girl’s head with a base­ball bat. Other story threads dis­ap­pear en­tirely (a sub­plot in­volv­ing the prin­ci­pal dis­solves with­out ex­pla­na­tion).

Na­tional pol­i­tics get name-checked (chants to lock peo­ple up; talk about tak­ing the town back), and Amer­i­can flags fly over de­praved masked-mob car­nage, in the glib man­ner of a “Purge” se­quel.

In the end, vengeance dons match­ing red rain­coats and takes up arms, and a stab at mil­i­tant fem­i­nism be­comes what may end up as the NRA’s fa­vorite movie of 2018.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.