Assassination Nation (4 stars)

Assassination Nation

LFF 2018: This audacious modern spin on the Salem witch trials boasts a stellar cast including Suki Waterhouse and Odessa Young

Has social media spawned the rise of self-righteous, pitchfork wielding bigots, quick to judge anyone who doesn't fit into their bubble? Director and writer Sam Levinson's modern spin on the Salem witch trials captures the chaos and confusion of living online with electrifying clarity. When the town gets hacked by an anonymous force, with people's secrets leaking into a public forum, a climate of hate and distrust spreads like a virus.

The casting of singer Abra, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse and Odessa Young as a group of rebellious teenagers is one of the many genius moves this film makes. They share a natural chemistry that adds to the authentic flavour of their friendship. They chat openly about sex, are opinionated about politics, are empathetic and still a tad naive when it comes to men. Their conversations are refreshingly irreverent and strike an effortless intimacy and their revelry has a glorious Spring Breakers edge to it.

Young turns in an unforgettable performance as central narrator Lilly, standing up against a vicious pack mentality to add nuance to discussions about sex scandals and feminist art. Her dry remarks could be plucked straight out of Heathers.

Levinson crafts his characters as if he is protective of them, he gives them credibility so that when it all kicks off and they feel pain, fury and distress the audience feels it too. The violence, dialogue and mayhem cuts extremely close to the bone, with the final part of the film playing out as part home-invasion, partly like The Purge, and part revenge flick.

Levinson's cine-literate approach references a multitude of films including American Beauty and the Stray Cat Rock series. An intense tracking shot from outside a house brings to mind Dario Argento's Tenebrae and Levinson's brutal visuals compound with the high-pitched mass hysteria to paint a bloody portrait of modern America that plays out like a terrifying horror film.

Screening on Fri 19, Sat 20 and Sun 21 Oct as part of the BFI London Film Festival. General release from Fri 23 Nov.

Assassination Nation

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • 1h 48min
  • Directed by: Sam Levinson
  • Cast: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse
  • UK release: 23 November 2018

When an anonymous hacker attacks the town of Salem, Massachusetts, spreading people’s secrets, a climate of hate and distrust takes over. Young is unforgettable as the dry central narrator and the central quartet of friends are refreshing and authentic in a film whose violence, dialogue and mayhem cuts close to the bone.