Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Assassination Nation

Hack To The Future

Assassination Nation
2018 USA Directed by Sam Levinson
UK cinema release print.

I missed this one when it was doing the festival circuits earlier in the year so I’m glad Assassination Nation finally got a UK release. And I have to say, it’s a pretty well made piece of cinematic machinery, for sure.

Okay, so this is how you immediately get me on your side when it comes to a movie like this... you have an opening tracking shot following a character down a street as Ennio Morricone’s opening title music for Dario Argento’s The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (reviewed here) is mixed right into the foreground while a voice over narrative hits you up with the framing device for the majority of the movie. Then, as Morricone’s score changes to the furiosity of the secondary part of the melody line, show a collage of upcoming fast cuts of the movie while the girl on the audio, main protagonist Lily, played by Odessa Young, warns the audience, in a whirl, of the upcoming 'graphic nature' of the story content in a manner not unlike the editing style of a lot of the rest of the movie... before going back into the main melody line of the Morricone classic. The score from the classic giallo is briefly revisited later to give the audience a subconscious connection and let them know that they’ve caught up to the opening spiel.

I have to say that this is a film which seems like it’s deliberately targeting a young teen audience but, don’t let that put you off because it’s very well done and, despite the possibly naivete of the ‘not so subtext’ dangers of toxic masculinity (which is probably fair enough, actually), it’s also got a lot of wisdom and heart at it’s centre. Now, I think I said this before about another movie on here recently but I’m going to say it anyway... it would be lazy to say that this is a Heathers for the younger generation but... that’s exactly what it is. The only real difference being that there are more than just the one nice character in this one in that Lily is supported in her quest to survive her town by her three friends Bex, Sarah and Em... all played equally well as Ms. Young by Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse and Abra.

The film is quite intense for the first half hour in the way it depicts the fast and vibrant head rush of modern social media culture with fast edits, constant split scenes and sequences of varying emotional weight often playing out in quick cuts against each other on the same chopped up screen. However, rather than be the way the whole movie is styled... which would be fairly exhausting, for sure... the film settles down to some sequences which share the pacing of the opening and it leaves some nice moments for the audience to take in what they are seeing and hearing by slowing down the pace just a notch or two without, thankfully, losing your interest as to what is going on. One of the ways it does this is with a constant barrage of killer dialogue which seems, at least at my end of the telescope, to be a good approximation of the teenage experience (although I suspect a real teenager might disagree with me... and they’d probably be right to do so).

The plot of the film is about somebody hacking various people’s private phone/computer images, texts etc which ruins the lives of various people. What happens when a lot of this kind of information is made publically accessible should come as no surprise to anyone watching who noted that the film takes place in a town called Salem. Yep, the spirit of the Salem witch trials takes over and when Lily is blamed for the hack, even the local police force are trying to kill her and her friends as mass hysteria takes over and the town becomes a bloodbath while the girls, who find themselves with access to automatic weapons due to the conclusion of one of the sub-plots of the movie, are forced to fight for their lives.

And, honestly, it’s a truly great film. Although it maybe doesn’t push things as much as it might (I suspect that’s a deliberate decision in order to actually get the film made and passed for release), the film does maintain a certain intensity in the way the mise en scene stays ‘in your face’ even when the fast edits are on hold for a while. It’s a film which sometimes is able to successfully let you feel more than you actually realise you are witnessing but, at the same time, it doesn’t skimp on the goriness and blood letting and there was a scene at one point which even reminded me of Revenge (reviewed here) in terms of the lead character literally slipping up on the amount of blood splashed around the set.

There’s also a nice and blatant disregard for the integrity of the fourth wall in this one, even from the outset of the movie and, perhaps my favourite moment of this was when one of the characters literally ushers in the non-diegetic soundtrack with a click of her fingers. There’s some really nice stuff here and I imagine, with the constant density of the visuals and audio bombardment (even when text messages are not being sent you will often hear that sound the i-phone makes when something is sent, to randomly punctuate the soundtrack), that this film would hold up to repeat viewings... there’s probably a lot that can be missed here.

I also loved a certain scene where the camera keeps panning around and up and down the various floors of a house from outside as a major sequence of violence and action take place throughout the lenghty tracking shot. It absolutely reminded me of the thing that Dario Argento used to do in movies like Tenebre (reviewed here) and, bearing in mind the choice of musical accompaniment at the beginning of the movie, I’m pretty certain this must have been a deliberate reference on the director’s part. As is, I suspect, a young boy’s mode of transport in the opening sequence, a reference to Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining.

The film doesn’t pull that many punches in the dialogue and succeeds on pretty much every level you could hope for, despite its uncanny trick of being able to ramp up and down the pacing from dead stop to screaming chaos and back very quickly.

The ending is a little bit of a shame in that, after it has an iconic looking and well orchestrated sequence of imagery leading to a ‘does the inevitable happen next?’ conclusion, it does kind of undercut that moment a little with a kind of end coda where the actual identity of the hacker is revealed. I’m pleased to say that, despite there being a very obvious throwaway line of dialogue from one of the peripheral characters half way through, the identity of person who has caused so much trouble did actually take me by surprise. However, the reactions of the other people in the scene kind of implies a much less aggressive sense of closure to the story which is almost at odds with the previous scene. So I don’t know if that was a last minute addition of, maybe, studio insistence that a culprit is actually named (it’s kind of redundant by this point in the story) or whether it’s supposed to be taking place a little before the prior scene but it doesn’t really get in the way of it being a great movie  and, it did surprise me somewhat so... all in all... that’s a good thing.

So there you have it. Assassination Nation is easily one of the best movies out in cinemas at the moment and lovers of teenage movies with a violent spin and a certain self awareness in the lead characters would probably not want to be missing out. This one is definitely a future purchase on Blu Ray and, I would also have bought the soundtrack if it had been released on CD instead of some awful, electronic download thing they seem to have put out but maybe some producer with half a brain might make the music available properly at some later point. Great movie, however and definitely something those who want to see how editing can really make footage more immediate and visceral might want to take a look at.

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