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Film / Assassination Nation

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"This is the story of how my town, Salem, lost its motherfucking mind. Now, I understand that you may think I'm exaggerating, that I'm being hyperbolic...that there's no way an entire suburb could freak the fuck out to the degree they'd want to kill four teenage girls. But I promise you...this is 100 percent a true story. I will warn you, though — it gets pretty graphic."
Lily Colson

Assassination Nation is a 2018 satirical black comedy exploitation thriller film written and directed by Sam Levinson (of later Euphoria fame). It stars Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Gabrielle "ABRA" Mirville and Suki Waterhouse, with Bill SkarsgŚrd, Joel McHale and Bella Thorne in supporting roles.

The film follows a group of four teenage girls — Lily Colson (Young), Bex Warren (Nef), Em Lacey (ABRA) and Sarah Lacey (Waterhouse) — as their sleepy American town of Salem is rocked to its core after a computer hacker only known as "Er0stratus" discovers and leaks private information about many of its residents.

As public reactions intensify the effects of the leaks, the town of Salem descends into chaos and violence, and Lily — herself one of the many leak victims — must fight to survive the night with her friends against a growing horde of armed misogynists, bigots and scumbags, as well as deal with the havoc brought upon their personal relationships.

Levinson conceived the film's story shortly before the birth of his first child, citing his fear for the social direction of the world he was bringing his child into as inspiration. Development of the film began in fall 2016, with casting and filming occurring throughout 2017. The film had its world premiere at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival on January 21 of that year, after which its rights were acquired by Neon, and following two co-distribution deals being signed, it was theatrically released in America exactly eight months later on September 21.

Assassination Nation contains examples of:

  • Action Girl:
    • All of the main four girls show (unexplained) prowess with guns and take down many armed men to rescue Bex, or in Lily's case herself, before going to a final confrontation which isn't resolved.
    • Nance also guns down two attackers before being killed defending her children.
  • Adults Are Useless:
    • The adults are utterly powerless to stop the hacks until half the town has had their secrets exposed — at which point most of the adults graduate from useless to dangerous.
    • The only adult in the film shown to be both somewhat competent, and sympathetic to the plight of Lily and her friends is Nance, Em and Sarah's mom — and she gets killed soon after the rioters invade her home looking for the girls.
  • Advertised Extra: Bella Thorne was one of the bigger names used in the film's advertising; her character Reagan does little in the film apart from sharing Grace's nudes behind her back and taking a baseball bat to the head for it courtesy of her.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: As Grace is taken from school into police custody following her murder of Alpha Bitch Reagan, the entire student body, even Reaganís fellow cheerleaders, applaud her, presumably due to the prior revelation that Reagan is the person who sent Graceís nude pictures to the boys, despite being Graceís supposed best friend.
  • Apologetic Attacker: Diamond apologizes to Bex as he prepares to hang her in front of all his jock friends. He then backs out in the face of her pleas.
  • Armoured Closet Gay: Mayor Bartlett is a vocally conservative anti-LGBT+ politician during his career; the leak reveals photos of him cross-dressing while partying with male escorts. He kills himself at a town hall meeting after this.
  • Ate His Gun: Mayor Bartlett kills himself this way at a town hall meeting in what is likely a distinct homage to the suicide of R. Budd Dwyer, especially with him saying that he "[doesn't] want to hurt anyone" after he reveals his gun, which is exactly what Dwyer said.
  • The Bad Guys Are Cops: The cop that responds to the girls' 911 call is in with the rioters. Emily and Sarah are "arrested," but taken alive. However, it's clear that they're being taken as hostages to lure out Lily and Bex, who've managed to escape the mob.
  • Batter Up!: How Grace kills Reagan, complete with the now-obligatory scene of walking down a hallway dragging the bat behind you.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: Invoked, but subverted. The last time we see the four girls is when they are standing before a mob of gun-wielding rioters, and it's unclear if they survive or not. However, in the last scene, Lily's father is questioning her brother Donny, who turns out to be the hacker, that his sister was almost killed, which implies that she at least managed to survive.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Nance, Em and Sarah's mother, gets shot in the gut, is almost helpless to help her imperiled daughter, and is shot through the head before she can rally and rescue her.
  • Character Development: Bex probably has the most substantial arc among the four leads. Earlier in the film, Bex claims she has no sympathy for town Mayor Bartlett — a conservative, anti-LGBT politician — after he commits suicide, but when she's later given the choice to kill Johnny for his attempted murder of her, she declines and lets him go.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Lily's hardly above improvising weapons when her life is in danger.
    • After a creep comes after her with a knife, she runs into someone's backyard, then takes her assailant out with a garden shovel from around a corner.
    • Lily manages to survive Nick's attack on her by putting razor blades from Nick's old-style razor into a bar of soap and slashing his throat with it.
  • Concealment Equals Cover: Subverted. When Johnny and one of his surviving henchmen hide behind a car, Em just shoots one of them right through it. They escaped before simply because the group shot above where they hid behind it.
  • Content Warnings: The film cheekily opens with a montage of every trigger warning-worthy aspect to come.
  • Crapsack World: The film's worldview isn't a very favorable one, and it quickly becomes clear that life in the town of Salem sucks, even before the leaks start making people go insane.
  • Devil's Advocate: Invoked. Lily's father describes her as such when she defends Principal Turrell over his accusations of child molestation during the leaks.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The film does not capitalize lightly on the setting of its Witch Hunt literally being named Salem.
    • After her (faceless) nudes are leaked, Lilyís boyfriend and his friend corner her and forcefully pull her shirt up to find the identifying birthmark shown in the nudes. This parallels the way that those accused of witchcraft during the Salem witch trials were searched for "the Witchesí mark."
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Lily's little brother Donny, who pretty much stays in the background of the Colson family scenes? He's revealed to be Er0stratus at the end.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Nance, the mother of Em and Sarah, is fatally shot by one of the home invaders, but not before killing two of them first.
  • Engineered Public Confession: Nick and other masked men capture local hacker Marty (the first person who discovered the leaks from the hacker Er0stratus), who they proceed to torture via waterboarding into finding the source of the hacks. Marty relents and confesses that he noticed a lot of activity coming from Lily's IP address during the waves of leaks, which seemingly designates her as the mastermind. Before executing Marty, they record a video of his forced confession.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Early in the film, Lily is called into Principal Turrell's office for drawing nudes in her sketchbook in school. By way of explanation, Lily deconstructs the idea that her drawings are pornographic by attacking the idea that any depiction of female nudity should be considered pornographic. It's clear Turrell sees the talent in her art, so he lets her off with a warning to not do it in school.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Regarding the identity of "Erostratus," the hacker and instigator of the events of the film. While Lily is kicked out of her family's home after her secret relationship with Nick is exposed, her younger brother Donny witnesses the scene, seeming very unaffected by it. It later turns out that he's the hacker, making his non-reaction more pointed.
    • An earlier example would be when the mass of personal data is released, one of the few excluded from the leak is Lily and it's also revealed later on that the source of the hacking traces back to her IP address, giving credence to the growing sentiment that she is the hacker. It all makes sense when the hacker is revealed to be her brother, as he likely withheld her information to prevent anyone from figuring out that he's the mastermind. Unfortunately, it resulted in his eventual discovery anyway.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Most of the rioters hunting Lily for allegedly causing the chaos are angry men who believe Lily is a whore who deserves to die for what she supposedly did.
  • Hidden Depths: Nance is shown to be kind of a floozy drunk for most of the film, but that briskly changes when she successfully guns down two of the home invaders that are hunting Lily.
  • Hypocrite: In her "The Reason You Suck" Speech, Lily accuses the whole town of this, since forming a lynch mob is essentially trying to solve one (perceived) injustice with an absolute disregard for any sort of justice.
  • It Amused Me: The motive of the hacker, revealed to be Lily's younger brother Donny in the final scene. When asked by the police why he did what he did, he simply responds, "For the lulz."
  • Karma Houdini: Mark essentially gets no repercussions for exposing Lily's relationship with Nick and destroying their respective home lives.
  • MayĖDecember Romance: Discussed and deconstructed. Lily was having a (non-sexual) affair with Nick, the father of a child she babysat, mostly consisting of her sending him suggestive pictures, and texting back and forth. When she seeks refuge in his home after the rioting begins, he seems supportive at first, but ultimately outs himself as a violent, sexually-aggressive psychopath — with two dead bodies in his bathtub.
  • The New Rock & Roll: The internet, as far as anyone in the movie over 20 is concerned.
  • No Sympathy: Despite being trans, Bex has no sympathy for Mayor Bartlett being outed by photos of him cross-dressing and partying with male escorts, even after he kills himself on stage. Understandably, considering that Bartlett was a Heteronormative Crusader during his time as mayor, and it's discussed by her with the other four girls.
  • Pśdo Hunt: After the school principal is revealed to have nude photos of his daughter from when she was a child on his phone, he immediately gets accused of molesting her. We never find out if he's guilty, or this was ill-advised but not a sign he abused her (however, by modern American laws this still might be considered child porn). In any case, he defended himself gracefully and refused to resign even when faced with an angry crowd.
  • Perky Goth: Reagan is a blue-haired girl who is usually seen in dark colors. She's also a Cruel Cheerleader and an Alpha Bitch.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: Mayor Bartlett's public suicide after the first wave of leaks opens the floodgates for the rest of the film to happen. However, the stakes are raised significantly when the first murder occurs: Grace kills her friend, cheerleader Reagan, for spreading nude pictures of her to her male friends.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Lily gives one of these to the whole town at the end.
    Lily: My name is Lily Colson. Iím 18 years old, and I donít know if me and my friends are going to live through the night. This entire fucking town wants to kill us. And they may say that itís because they thought I was behind it, or that Iím a whore, Iím immoral, Iím a homewrecker, I deserve it, I have it coming. Well, guess what? I didnít hack anybodyís shit. I didnít do it, and I donít know who did. As for being a whore, a homewrecker, immoral? Sure. It doesnít hold a fucking candle to your righteousness. Thatís the real sickness here, your righteousness and hypocrisy. Itís the simple fact that you canít live by the rules you set, yet you still pretend. This is your world. You built this. If itís too strict, tear it the fuck down. But donít look at me. Donít take your hate out on me, I just got here. And I have no clue where to go, because, from the moment I arrived, all I was ever given were orders. ďSmile. Open up. Cross your legs. Spread your pussy. Speak softer. Scream louder. Be quiet. Be confident. Be interesting. Donít be so difficult. Be strong. Be an angel. Be a whore. Be a princess. Be anything you want to be. Even the President of the United States of America. Just kidding." Fuck you. You still want to kill me? Rape me? Stab me? Shoot me? Letís go. Rally your fucking crew. Grab your guns and hide behind your masks. You want to do this in real life now? Give it your best shot. Because youíve prepared me my whole life for this. You may kill me, but you canít kill us all.
  • Salem Is Witch Country: Played with, but still explicitly invoked. None of the girls ever claim to be or have been called witches, but it plays out much the same anyway. What makes it more on the nose is that the town where the events of the movie take place is in fact called Salem.
  • Slut-Shaming: Despite being one of the hacker's victims, Lily is quickly blamed for the hacks, primarily over taking sexy selfie pictures that she sent out.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Lily's younger brother Donny, who only appears in a few scenes, is the hacker and instigator of everything that happens.
  • Suburban Gothic: A suburban town's dark secrets are exposed, leading to a violent witch hunt.
  • Trans Equals Gay: After he finds out Bex had sex with Diamond, Johnny intimidates Diamond into thinking he'll be seen as gay by others, which leads to their attempted hanging of her later.
  • Uncertain Doom: The fates of Lily, Em, Sarah, and Bex are unknown, as they're last seen in a Bolivian Army Ending standoff with the rioters. Lily's dad later reveals she had survived, but not what became of the rest.

"I hate the fucking Internet."