Thursday, September 20, 2018

Assassination Nation: Privacy is Dead and You’re Next

Even if privacy really is dead, do we really have to chuck away personal responsibility with it? This film seems to think so. Set in a modern-day town named Salem, it becomes the sight of a new kind of witch hunt when nearly every resident has their dirty, hypocritical social media hacked. Right, subtlety is obviously long gone as well. Anger is the prime motivation and defining emotion of Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Lily Colman and her BFFs Sarah, Em, and the transgender Bex do not believe in privacy, so they just try to look their best half-naked on social media platforms. In fact, they devote quite a bit of time to maintaining their images. Yet, they are still blindsided when the mother of all e-mail/social media/phone hacks hits Salem. First it is the mayor and then the high school principal who fall victim to the Savonarola-like hacker, but he soon turns his attention on the students.

Even though Colman and her pals are hit harder than anyone by the hack, the town soon gets the notion that she must be the hacker, so just about everyone forms into a lynch mob and heads towards her house. Seriously, Colman may have her flaws, but she hardly seems to have the technical wherewithal for this kind of cyber mischief. However, she can handle a gun and will do so to defend herself, as is her right.

Aside from its huge logical issues, ANation also suffers from the hypocrisies it so easily ascribes to others. In its world, any Evangelical Christian is secretly picking up rent boys on the side. Frankly, this film is symptomatic of the divisiveness plaguing our country. If Levinson actually went out into Red States to meet Evangelicals they would find most of them love their children and worry about their online exposure (by the way, Trump slightly under-performed with this demographic and they turned against Roy Moore). Whereas, in ANation, there is less parenting going on than in a typical John Hughes movie.

Most of the cast is playing broadly drawn “us” or “them” characters, but Colman Domingo is quite exceptional as Principal Turrell. He stands out as the voice of reason and a figure of dignity. Frankly, his example serves as an indictment of both our current polarized society and the film it appears in.

ANation is sort of like an even more politicized installment of The Purge, but Levinson never allows us to just enjoy the carnage. Instead, he keeps interrupting the mayhem to make sure we are getting the message—like we could miss it. This is just a simplistic film that will further divide us, by stoking half the population’s fear and resentment of the other half. Not recommended as cinema or inciting propaganda, Assassination Nation opens tomorrow (9/21) in theaters throughout the City, including the AMC Empire.