Sundance 2018: Sam Levinson's 'Assassination Nation' is Awesome
by Alex Billington
January 23, 2018
This. Film. Rules. Every so often, Sundance will be lucky enough to premiere a film in the Midnight category that instantly cements itself as a guaranteed hit and genre-busting work of cinematic art. Assassination Nation is one of the best Sundance Midnight films I have ever seen here, hands down. It's a loud, energetic, socially-conscious, refreshing, awesomely entertaining, totally wild & crazy, seriously impressive, original creation from the mind of filmmaker Sam Levinson. It's amazing. I loved every second of it. The midnight crowd at the Sundance world premiere ate it up, and I am glad I was there to experience this moment. This film is a smashing massive success, and it's going to blow everyone away once it hits theaters everywhere.
The premise of Levinson's Assassination Nation is crazy itself: set in the town of Salem, Massachusetts, it updates the vintage witch hunt story with a brutal, contemporary twist. A local hacker decides to release everyone's entire digital lives - their text messages, photos, browser histories, everything - for anyone to look through. And this causes this tiny town to go insane, as you might expect. But this film isn't just crazy shit happening non-stop. It has one of the smartest genre scripts that actually takes its time to establish the characters, the stakes, the world, and then follows them through into this chaos. The main character is Lily, played by Odessa Young, and she is flanked by three other teenage friends - Abra, Suki Waterhouse, and Hari Nef. Want to know how they become the most hated girls in the town? You must watch the film.
What makes Assassination Nation so genius is that it's the perfect combination of everything: a super sharp script, ambitious indie filmmaking, a helluva cast, an eclectic soundtrack, and bold themes that address the realities of our society. It's also an ingenious critique of today's times, while also maintaining its integrity by making intelligent choices that reflect our world. Take, for example, the way this stars a transgender actress named Hari Nef as one of the four main ladies. It's not even for show, she just is one of the main characters, because of course she is. The film also opens with an amusing title card sequence that references how many "trigger warnings" there are - from racism to narcissism, to toxic masculinity to violence. All of this is in there, but mostly as a vicious commentary on how crazy we all are, as people who help fuel the witch hunts.
There's also an amazing ~10 minute tracking shot during a home invasion scene that blew me away. I don't even know how they pulled it off. It's one of those mind-blowing filmmaking moments that makes you start spouting nonsense out loud in the middle of the film because you're so jacked by what you're seeing. This scene alone is so good it can be studied in film school classes (it probably will be) and analyzed. We've seen plenty of these shots before, but the execution of it in Assassination Nation and the way it ties into the story is utter perfection. I wanted to applaud once it finally cut because it is jaw-dropping. And this is just one of the many perfectly shot scenes. Hungarian cinematographer Marcell Rév deserves awards for his work on this, seriously. He's the next big thing and this film (and also Jupiter's Moon) is going to be his calling card.
I've been buzzing ever since seeing this film, and I'm so happy I was able to catch its world premiere. It's going to be huge. Assassination Nation is a film that puts a mirror up to society and asks us to reflect on ourselves and our ignorance, while giving us an enormously entertaining genre experience. It's invigorating, impressive filmmaking that can ignite some spark deep down, inspiring us to grow and evolve. And yet it's still bloody and violent and hilarious and wacky and freaky and totally worth watching - with all your friends and everyone else. It's an awesome film that will make you erupt into cheers by the end. In fact, I don't even think America is ready. They won't know what hit them, but watch out, the Assassination Nation is coming.
Alex's Sundance 2018 Rating: 9.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing