The whole world’s watching, and waiting, and it’s only a matter of time before you fuck it all up – Lily
Where to begin, gentle reader?
Well, let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start. Moments into the new American film Assassination Nation (2018), we have the following message, which shows a scene from the movie corresponding to each thing as it flashes up:
A FEW TRIGGER WARNINGS – BULLYING, BLOOD, ABUSE, CLASSISM, DEATH, DRINKING, DRUG USE, SEXUAL CONTENT, TOXIC MASCULINITY, HOMOPHOBIA, TRANSPHOBIA, GUNS, NATIONALISM, RACISM, KIDNAPPING, MURDER (ATTEMPTED), THE MALE GAZE, RAPE(ATTEMPTED), SEXISM (DEF SEXISM), SWEARING, TORTURE, VIOLENCE, GORE, WEAPONS, FRAGILE MALE EGOS
Well, hyuck hfuckingyuck. How very cutesy and self-reflexive. At this point I sighed, got out my lube, box of tissues, sandpaper, and prepared to ritualistically abuse myself for being a white middle-aged male, aka the only group in the modern world it’s okay to piss over and demonize and spit on with impunity. You there at the back, stop rolling your eyes, I’m serious! But if you think this is going to be some sort of ‘get those damned kids off my lawn’ ramblerant, you’d be very much incorrect.
I found this film fascinating in some ways, and am not going to review it so much as discuss what’s in it, all of it, so I would see it first if I were you if you don’t want it spoiled. At least half of the film is utterly wrong-headed dross, and there’s no point kicking somebody when they’re down. Unless you like doing that sort of thing, that is, and I will probably get into that, for the sheer bloody boneless fuck of it. Not because of my age or sex (I am not American, and this renders my perspective on this stuff very different, because I am thankfully not in the shouty-braindead epicentre of it all anymore), or even because I’m angry, because I’m not. It’s just cos this film, in some ways, represents everything that’s wrong with modern America, its mentality, and its cinema in general. “Hold on whoa whoa whoa wait a minute minute minute Jesus Christ,” to quote Die Antwoord, you there at your monitor, calm down, pipe down, sit down and shut up, let me get through all this to justify that last hyperbolicline. Just a way to draw in the ever-loyal-and-loving net-virus-scanner and keep your peepers peering, kids.
So, let’s move on.
Assassination Nation introduces us to the normal, tedious, middle class suburban 18-year-old lifestyles of Bex (Hari Nef), Em (played by the singer Abra), Sarah (English actress Suki Waterhouse, putting on a rogue Yank brogue), and main protagonist Lily (Australian Odessa Young, who really reminds me of a young Heather ‘Rollergirl’ Graham). Immediately letting you know just what way this is all going to go, you note that Bex is a real transgender person (Nef’s performance is good – hell, all the performances are good, really), and Em is black, with Sarah and Lily being white. So, we basically have all the major racial and sexual food groups accepted by extremist, contemporary collegiate America in living, breathing colour and (trans)gender. Sarah’s sister is black, so it is hardly possible to get more of a sense of boxes-ticking than it is here. Cynical, me? Well, why not? It’s totally fucking obvious.
Anyway, they’re just living the usual horrendous miss-American-middle-class existence; you know, lying around in their spacious, luxurious homes bitching about “rapey” men and dishing the sexual dirt on each others conquests. Life is just one big, bored unhappy family until the mayor of their town’s (Salem, moron which later) computer gets hacked and he gets doxed, which uncovers his repressed homosexuality and cruising gay sites and the Craigslist casual encounters pages (now defunct since the film, eh…came out) for rent boys and sexual partners.
He pulls a Robert Budd Dwyer (the Pennsylvania State Treasurer who blew his brains out at a press conference on-camera in 1987, in a horrendous piece of footage floating round the net) and this instantly goes viral, of course, with people replaying it and rating it and laughing and puking at it, and at his repressed sexual proclivities and homophobic public proclamations. So farce, so good. But it’s not until 17,000 town residents simultaneously get hacked and doxed that the cybershit really hits the offline fan, because Lily is blamed for the ensuing chaos, and she and her three sisters have to do it for themselves in the survival stakes, with the whole town out to kill them. And it’s at that point, an hour in, that the film slides straight down the shitter and never comes back out.
First off: let me just say, in the positives margin of the ledger, that I absolutely fucking loved the look of this film from start to finish. Hungarian cinematographer Marcell Rev’s imagework is exemplary from start to finish. Whether you are watching a triple screen showing what several characters are doing at once, or tracking shots moving towards or away from characters to emphasize modern inter-personal gulfs between people (my take on it), or endless window voyeur shots, or party scenes shot with slightly too much colour saturation (like you get when you take ecstasy), or the camera just randomly bouncing and twirling and twisting around like a Dario Argento wet techno dream…Assassination Nation is an absolutely beautyfuel joy to behold. I will watch this film again, purely because it’s so gorgeous to look at. So, my hat is off (or it would be had I not left it on a bus earlier this year, and never picked it up from the bus terminus in Larbert) to Mr. Rev. Top class work, and guaranteed this film will garner him a lot more work. He certainly deserves it. I mean, he’s not doing anything that Natural Born Killers (a clear inspiration, and one of my fave films) didn’t do in 1994, really, but what the film does it does extremely well. Though I could have done without Old Glory being in every other scene just to emphasize what an All-American Romp this is, baby! Less of the flag-haggery next time, Marcell! I am a total slut for experimental camera work and colour and shot trifurcation and such, and will take as much of that hot stuff you can throw at me: pour it all over my hungry dazed gazing glazing eyeballs!
It’s just a pity that the easy, elegant, effortless style of the film is letdown by the rest of it.
The first time I watched Nation (I have seen it twice), I found it fascinating, and interestingly contemporary. There are a lot of conversations during the first hour about hypocrisy in art; photography versus drawing; differing perceptions of works; artistic revisionism; the death of privacy; the deadening of affect; (im) moral hypocrisy; mob mentality, and the effects of judging people by partial evidence presented. All very right now and crazy maaaan, ho-hum. But watching it again, I realized that, even more than I did the first time, the characters don’t really have conversations so much as talk to each other like people commenting on a comments section on some video or story on the net. It’s very inorganic. The dialogue is hugely soundbitey, throwing off clichéd trite ageist aphorisms (old people can’t accept that privacy is dead, and blabbedy boring blah) and rebuttals to some point put across by one character to another. These points range across anything from how men who don’t eat pussy in this day and age are “straight-up sociopathic” (I would totally agree – ladies, if he doesn’t do that, ditch that tongueless prick!) to how somebody having photos of their young child naked does not make them a child molester. It’s all pretty obvious stuff, and is put forward by our quartet of fearless,not-particularly-sympathetic-or-interesting female heroines.
I watched a couple of interviews with writer/director Sam Levinson. He sagely said the film is a kind of “road map” for modern life. A road map like MapQuest sometimes gives you that annoyingly takes you down the wrong road, that is. He also said his method of writing was literal method writing, because he was a method actor for four years, so he put himself into the glittery shoes of his female characters. I would assume he didn’t chop his cock off for the transgender parts. The director would go online and research some of the topics touched on in the film. That is exactly what the dialogue sounds like a lot of the time tome; a load of subjects and back-n-forth banter on them slung together. When you first watch it, it seems interesting, and to be addressing some weighty topics. Then when you notice the construction (not that all the dialogue is bad, and there is some amusing updating of old teen movie dialogue here and there), it just disintegrates. The familiarity of the subjects being discussed just makes it seem like the film is deeper than it really is, cos it’s things we have all thought or said at one time or another; any admiration is pure narcissism,really. But narcissism is the leitmotif of the 21st century anyway,so all that’s all (un)well and good (for nothing).
It really does come off as if Levinson has made a list of topics he wanted to address. He then looked online for the general ‘moral‘ consensus (when no such thing exists) on the thing, then soundbit the whole argument(s) down to a smug-sounding, all-solving, already-resolved pithy phrase or two. The inch-deep philosophical-infomercial dialogue reminds me, in that respect, of the fascinating, semi-human techno-patois spoken by Jake Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom character in Nightcrawler. He was a man who had taught himself how to speak and be social by sitting at a computer all the time, so his character spoke in a stilted, inhuman fashion. It’s only the constant familiarity of the discussion of topics like watching real-life death videos online (“My iPhone looks like a fucking snuff film,” comments Sarah to laughter, in one of the film’s funnier, truthful lines), or watching ‘disgusting’ sexual material whose shades and contours could bring about pariahdom if released into the pub(l)ic domain, that make this seem in any way real or interesting.
One of the main driving factors of this film is good old-fashioned American sexual repression and self-loathing. Characters are constantly scared their “super gross” sex-viewing histories will be revealed. The mayor is outed and commits suicide. The principal of Salem High School is doxed and is found to be in both possession of naked bath photos of his then six-year-old daughter, and an erotica viewing history that includes pulsing teen pussy porn. Lily sends nudes of herself to ‘Daddy,’ whose identity we do not learn until late in the film. She is slut-shamed when they are splashed online and this, more than anything else, is what really riles up the people of Salem that what they do with their cocks and cunts and food and pets is getting wetly splashed every where down sterile phone lines to make what they are into ten-second mocking entertainment for everybody else, then to be forgotten about for the next trauma voyeur wave, leaving mangled brains and bodies in its net-tsunami wake.
But everybody else is also fucked up, anyway, so what the film inadvertently – almost accidentally – notes is that people should not really feel guilty about their sexual desires or viewing habits, because everybody else is just as hypocritically extreme or idiosyncratic or fetishistic. Or at least it is if they have a healthy libido and even an ounce of sexual curiosity, that is. If people weren’t so fucking obsessed with what everybody else is doing, or who they’re screwing, none of this shit would be worth a damn in the ‘wrong’ hands, because those hands would have their own genitalia, or a toy, or a vegetable, in them anyway. Lily, an artist, actually does give an interesting conversational depiction of taking the ‘perfect’ selfie and how to achieve zero-body-shame escape velocity, but how it never works anyway. Bex fucks repression case Diamond, a jock (the clichés fly thick and fast – the fact the film is unaware they are clichés is hilarious), and is told not to say anything to anybody about fucking “Literally the Latina Tom Cruise” (a description with back-story weight in itself).
The film itself is hypocritically chaste; unlike, say, teen film Ken Park, there is absolutely no nudity or ass whatsoever in Assassination Nation. They only ‘graphic’ sexual depiction is Lily’s drawing of a naked woman with her legs spread that occasions the labia-selfie conversation with a bemused (and probably aroused) school principal. There is no real edge to the thing, which is what makes its confused attempts at moral did acticism so ridiculous and hilariously un-self-aware. The film is so lost in its own repressed, stewing sexual and ultraviolence-obsessed juices it doesn’t even know how wacked-out it is, even though it’s trying to be cutting-edgy and funny and serious and poignant all at the same time. It’s an exploitation film masquerading as an art film masquerading as an exploitation film, if that makes any sense.
The whole film shifts tones and gravitas so often it makes your head spin. It comes across as a literal manifestation for trying for an overarching understanding of life, the universe and nothing in the modern nihilistic world, and does not know that it adds to the problem with its execution and subject matter and deep-down misandry and tawdry body loathing. When I read the piece about it that turned me onto it, it was referred to as a Heathers-like ‘satire’ that, after I watched it, made me wonder if I had seen the same film that the journalist doing the piece had. That film had heart, and was genuinely funny. It also had four young female leads, and that is literally the only way you could say the two films are alike. It’s much more like Kick-Ass and Deadpool, those misanthropic sort of sneering, tiresome, self-reflexive abortions America produces to make adults who watch superhero films feel like they are watching something ‘adult.’ It’s ironic. I grew up watching mad American underground shit, listening to their punk music, and reading about extremist, angry leftist politics in venues like Maximum Rocknroll. But now that that pathological extremism is ever-more-mainstream, and is unfortunately being taken deadly seriously, it’s no real fun anymore. No underground movement ever is, once it gets co-opted.
(Pain-sandpapering the pulsating pink pole and damn man does it ever hurt so good!)
The smarmy, sneering, get-out-of-responsibility-jail-free breaking of the fourth wall was just a joke. An example would be how the four teens are walking along in high school and Bex says, “I love this song.” Asked what song she is referring to, she clicks her fingers and, all of a sudden, WACKY AS HELL!!!…a pop song starts on the soundtrack for them to all strut along to! The thing about this is not even that it’s stupid. It would be stupid even if it was maintained all the way through the film. But it’s only used in a handful of places, so you basically forget it, and the rest of the film comes across as a relatively straight-forward poorly-plotted drama (it’s no ‘satire’ by any means) that turns into a mix between Fight Club(quoted in the film, and even the soundtrack sounds like David Fincher’s homoerotic 1999 classic) and any random, brain dead, bullets-for-breakfast bullshit action flick you care to mention. All it was missing was Cynthia Rothrock kicking cock to make it complete.
The film’s ‘political’ stance is straight-up fucking disgusting, beyond PC, and yet so far lost up its own bahookie that its eyes are brown. There is not really one single sympathetic male figure in this film, no decent lovers, brothers, protectors, no redeeming factors or values. Good old fear-everybody from the most paranoid country in the world. Nowhere to ran to, baby, nowhere to hide, bopping our way to Coney Island! Trust no-bloody-body! No rest for the weary male middle-class wicked! Lily’s dad is a moron straight out of Heathers (OK, there are two ways the films are similar) who talks vapid 20th century shite about being protective of his daughter. What a total prick, eh? How dare the old befuddled fuddy-duddy daddy care about her well-being! The mysterious ‘Daddy’ (figure) Lily sends non-nude nudes to turns out to be the husband of a kid she was babysitting. But she gets out of shame-and-blame-jail free because they haven’t actually had sex yet. So, when he turns, for no reason whatsoever, into a wannabe-rapist (American comedian Joel McHale, playing totally against type, and doing so well) who is a neo-Nazi(!) with a huge guns and swords stash(!!) in his house, it’s okay to messily cut his throat and have him ejaculate blood all over her, cos, well, he’s hypocritical male scum.
All of the men in this sub-Troma film are hypocritical male scum, who clearly deserve the way they are mowed down by the female force of four. When the townspeople (read: men) decide they are going to go after Lily and her pals for her supposedly doxing them (and for wanting to hang Bex just cos, you know, she’s transgender), the teens turn into coldly efficient, murderous sacks of human shit who slash and shoot and stab their high school boyfriends, cops, fathers, well, anybody with a dick, straight to hell. It’s actually fucking incredible how tone-deaf this film is though, on one level, having lived in America for over a decade and seen its misogyny (a word now devalued by overuse) first-hand, I can get where it’s coming from. They’re all men, it’s a woman’s world now, kill them all, destroy their scum manifestos, they are all vermin without anything to offer the world. This is a pretty accurate portrait of what modern, sociopathic collegiate America believes. A great many of their young people have lost their minds and become phony sanctimonious religious extremists (rebelling against their Xanax-chomping, boring daddies by basically becoming born-again Christians) who hate white men. This film was written and directed by a white man, which says a few things tome:
He’s into pandering to a hateful audience.
He’s under a female thumb.
He’s a genius for peddling his problems to a gloating female teen audience like this.
Personally, I am totally fucking sick of the absolute insanity coming out of America now, especially cos it’s now infecting and affecting this side of the Atlantic, too. I saw it myself when I lived in Chicago (came back to Scotland in 2016), and it’s only getting worse by the day. And these little extremist fuckers (funny how the film never addresses modern young sexual repression and fear and hatred and anger and paranoia), over-compensating for coming of (r)age in an era with an alpha-batter scum president, having helicopter parents, too much attitude, and no real problems…are ruining people’s lives just for the old-tweets fuck of it. This mindset is a symptom of modern American nihilism, coming from a country that long ago descended into ever-worsening cruelty, barbarism and random mass murder. The film has the fucking temerity to talk about how “motive isn’t important” in school shootings…then has its teen high school characters…mowing down other teen high school characters! Jesus fuck! Talk about confused! You just had us rooting for Harris and Klebold during the first half of the film, Levinson, justifying their later massacre! Thanks, pal!
But we all know what the motivation here is. (Self) Hatred of the white man. You don’t need any more motivation in the 21st century in America. This film’s warped panacea to cure America’s white man-inculcated ills is to replicate precisely the absolute worst, psychotic, self-serving, murderous, evil excesses it would accuse white middle-class male America of being guilty of! Kill ’em all, and let god sort ’em out, the chromosome-challenged fools! Valerie Solanas would be proud. And remember, it’s mostly not women who do mass shootings in real life, Laurie Dann and Brenda Spencer aside. Women normally get their revenge in much more subtle ways. The only male in this film whore deems himself is Diamond, who refuses to lynch Bex, and he escapes death cos he’s the ‘right’ colour, i.e. Latina, and has renounced his transphobic ways. And no doubt Nation even looks upon itself as being ‘inspiring’ or ‘empowering’ to young women and minorities. This is the kind of hateful production that will no doubt have young white middle-class American females (who seem to have somehow forgotten their own societal milieu and shiny Caucasian hide-hue) gloating about ‘kicking the white man’s ass,’ even as the male director/writer dresses his leads up in red coats (like some old Japanese fanny-batter-smasher called Delinquent Girl Boss) and gives them Samurai swords to symbolically penetrate and eviscerate the men with.
I am always cynical when a male director/writer puts women through the wringer (like Talentlesstino with his Kill Bill shite) and then lets them have ‘revenge’ on their male oppressor. It smacks of badass gun girl fetishism a la Richard Kern, to me, with a ‘redeeming’ ending that atones for all the director-frothing scenes of violence and rape perpetrated against females in the previous 90 minutes of bitch-hating madness. But that’s just me, I’m a cynical fucker. Why the hell wouldn’t I be? I’m nowhere near as cynical as this shite is, that’s for sure. America just keeps pumping out this mentally and emotionally diseased misanthropic material and it’s all abusive business as usual, more bang-bang for your buck. I’m not even getting moralistic. I couldn’t give a fuck about pretending to be ‘shocked’ or ‘offended’ by this botoxic schlock, cos I’m not; I watch violent films a lot. It just low-grade disgusts me, is all. This film can suck my fucking disdain. It doesn’t even have the self-awareness or decency to just say what it is: an SJW-pandering, man-hating teen exploitation film where the women get to massacre their assailants at the end. It has to try and pretend it’s some sort of (pre)cautionary fable about being ‘careful’ about where the world is. Partly because of shit like this! Hell, at least Talentlesstino didn’t have the fucking gall to pretend his worthless films have socially redeeming value! It’s genuinely hilarious. I just hope this is not the future direction that American films are going to take, or it’ll give me even more reason to avoid them.
(Owwww fuck this is getting painful…KEEP GOING!!!)
The name of this film is a complete misnomer. The whole thing never gets beyond the town of Salem into the wider nation, or wider world (never mentioned, mirroring American isolationism), which is bizarre and ludicrous and parochial. The men of the town manage to form into a murderous fight club vigilante posse in a week after Lily is accused of doxing everybody…and the female characters somehow never find out about this beforehand. It’s oddly disconnected, for a film trying to be about the online generation. In one interview, Levinson talked about starting writing this film a couple of years ago when his wife was pregnant, worrying what sort of world they were bringing a child into. I hope the kid was a female, then, by the director’s own nihilistic prescription for societal ills. The ‘concern for small children’ vibe creeps into the film in a couple of ways here. First off, as I said, there is a discussion about whether having photos of a naked kid in a tub makes you a child violinist. Then, much more strangely, insidiously, and disturbingly, there is an oddly revealing (though I have no fucking idea what it reveals) moment when the four girls are walking through their high school. Em reveals that she has a “20,000-word fanfic” about crime TV reporter Nancy Grace that she has written. I had to look that one up. Grace reported on a 2008 American murder case where a mother, Casey Marie Anthony, was charged with murdering her three-year-old daughter Caylee, but was found not guilty. Having an 18-year-old character discussing having written a 20,000-word manuscript on a decade-old murder case is pretty fucking bizarre. But it ties in with something very odd I noticed about the film in general. I mean, look at the character names (from the credits):
Daddy, Daniels, Dave (aka Rando Dude), Mason/(Reagan) Hall, (Red) Hat, Grace, Langley, Lawrence, Mark, Margie, Marty/Marty’s Father, Masked Man, Masked Mob, Masked Neighbor, Masked Townsperson, Mayor Bartlett, Patterson, Sanders, Sarah, SnapBack. Also Allie, Carlie, Donny, Lily, Margie. And Diamond, Mason (again), Reagan, Vernon.
Yes, it takes a certain kind of mentality to notice the rhyming syllables and name groupings in the film, and I, unfortunately (laughing) have it. Look at the names in that crime case: Caylee, Casey, Nancy. A character called Nance gets mentioned being hacked, though she doesn’t appear. A little girl character’s name is ‘Carlie,’ similar to Caylee. The Margie character’s name is only one letter away from Marie, the murdered child’s middle name (also the middle name of the actress playing Margie). Sounds to me like the Anthony child murder case is some sort of weird obsession of Sam (even his first name would fit the established syllabic scheme, as would his dad Barry’s) (laughing out loud here) Levinson. Why am I documenting this oddness? Why not? This stuff is in there as a random discussion point. What other popular entertainer do we know who’s obsessed with (still laughing at how far off from a mainstream ‘review’ this is) true crime and rhyming (crhyming?) that’s right…
Marshall Bruce Mathers III.
I am sure that the fact that the black character, played by once-rapper Gabriella Olivia ‘Abra’ Mirville (who has an amazing singing voice), is named Em…as in a shortening of Eminem’s name…is just a total coincidence. Also, the fact that Joel McHale’s character Nick has the surname Mathers…is surely just yet another coincidence.
(Still frictionising away with the eyewaterer, cockburner sandpaper)
Ummm…whit else wis ah gonnae…oh aye, that’s right, Salem.
In Assassinated Nation, the name of the town the teens come from is Salem (another syllable match!) (stop it, G!) (chuckling). The fact they get hunted as, well, techno-witches, I suppose, is all too unsubtle here. Lily gets identified as the young woman sexting Mathers by a birthmark on her back. During the Salem Witch Trials in 17th century Massachusetts (look it up, not going too deep into it here) (following the film’s lead), ‘witches’ were identified by a supposed ‘witches’ mark’ on their body. Suffice to say, fourteen women were hanged as witches (which, er…ties into a scene where Bex is going to be hanged by hateful high school transphobes) during this hysterical outburst. Five men were also executed, butt his inconvenient fact is pinged away, as is anything that does not fit certain finely-tuned tunnel vision worldviews these days. The whole ‘witch hunt’ angle quite simply does not work because, like the rest of the ungelling material, it’s not present during the whole film, unless you count the whole town witch-hunting itself 24/7 365. Male sympathy is not allowed in extremist-mist-obscured times, as America burns itself (and the world) to the ground and the flames licking the wrinkled smoking bodies of all-sexes,old-social-media-offences witches burn ever higher and more insanity-expository.
(Near-twitching dick friction in the diction…)
There is another wee historical anarchist trope a-runnin’ through the film too. The hacker ‘Erostratus’ is named after Herostratus, a 4th-century BC Greek arsonist who sought notoriety by destroying the Temple of Artemis one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. His acts prompted the creation of a damnation memoriae law, forbidding anyone to mention his name. The law was ultimately ineffective, as evidenced by mentions of his existence in contemporary literature. Thus, Herostratus has become a metonym for someone who commits a criminal act in order to become noted. (They’ll never find out I just cut-n-pasted that description from Wiki – after all, it worked for Lianne Spiderbaby) So, aye, you know, smart historef, salute, whatfuckingever. Certainly fits in with the nihilistic, all-too-believable lack of motive of the real hacker in the film, Lily’s younger sociopathic brother (operating under a VPN from ‘Russia’ – sigh), who doxed people “for the lolz.”
(AND SUDDENLY A VIOLENT SANDPAPER BLEEDING RED DICKRIPPER EXPLOSION AND ALL THE TENSION IS RELEASED AND RELIEVED AND…)
You know what? After that coupla-hours-to-write randomword spankwank, I have fuck all else to say about the film. Spent too much time and energy on it already. Could say more, but can’t be bothered. You know what it’s like when you’re masturbating to bad exploitation and then you come, you lose all interest. Nothing I say will make any difference in how this film is received; no ‘critic’ (I do not regard myself as such) ever matters. The teen girls will love it, getting vindication for hating their evil daddies for paying them through college and liberal fascist indoctrination, and in a decade’s time the film will become the focus of soft-focus retro flashback discussions wondering where the youthful cast are now. I look forward to it all with baited breath.
PS: In the film, the person who Lily quotes about mercy and swaying people is Susan Sontag. Yer welcome.