A screeching, graphic howl of incendiary exasperation, “Assassination Nation” adds its voice to the growing chorus of furious condemnation of a society dominated by toxic masculinity, religious hypocrisy and venal depravity overseen by the ever-present spectre of a pussy-grabbing enabler-in-chief, showing in no uncertain terms what will happen when pussy grabs back.
The town of Salem finds itself once again in the grip of judgemental hysteria after a malicious hacker exposes the online lives of the local citizenry. As the town falls to mob mentality and a populist, hypocritical puritanical fervour, Lily Colson (Odessa Young) and her friends Bex (Hari Nef), Em (Abra), and Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) find themselves literally fighting for their lives as the toxicity of modern life finally takes its toll.
Most obviously taking inspiration from “The Purge” franchise, “Assassination Nation” could work as a de facto prequel to even “The First Purge”, showing how the trigger for the annual event could come not from shadowy cabal or right-wing think tank but from the petty vindictiveness and suppressed anger, fear and frustration of ordinary people pushed too far. But where the satirical swipes of that now old-news franchise feels almost comfortably familiar, eclipsed by real-life events, “Assassination Nation” feels raw and brazen and exposed, propelled by a visceral anger that “The Purge” movies don’t really have.
There’s a knowingly anarchic and gleefully exploitative tone to the movie, which straight up mocks the audience from the moment it starts with a sarcastic warning of the many triggers the coming film contains, trolling both the safe-spacers and those who mock them with equal scorn. It keenly captures the swirling, hormonal miasma of vanity, nihilism, ennui and restless anger of late teenage life, exploiting and exploring hot-button social issues with a palpable frustration and disgust at the world the kids find left for them to inherit.
It loses much of its incendiary power in the final third when it descends into a surprisingly routine slasher/ revenge horror movie but there’s a savagery that still cuts through the stylish filmmaking of writer/ director Sam Levinson and bludgeons you over the head with the ferocity of its implications.
Like its protagonists, it may sometimes struggle to keep its focus on anything but the superficial and can be prone to lethargic naval gazing, especially in its first half hour but once the fuse is lit, the fireworks are worth the wait. Nothing, though, delivers a more brutal and lyrical takedown of the current cesspool of American moral hypocrisy as the inspired, surreal end credits scene of a marching band proudly processing through the debris and body-strewn ruination of suburbia.