NEON (2018)

 

Director: Sam Levinson

 

Starring: Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, Abra, Anika Noni Rose, Colman Domingo, Maude Apatow, Bill Skarsgård, Joel McHale, Bella Thorne

Hold onto your hats, mobile phones, anything…

 

Sam Levinson’s Assassination Nation is here and has a lot to say – and has no problem being as subtle as a vuvuzela in an elevator. Movies blaring social commentaries are nothing new, we’ve had plenty in 2018, but they only hold sway when they’re well-written, well-presented and, of course, engaging. There’s plenty of blood, violence, issues, style, and social media talk, but does the story itself match up everything else going on within the movie…?

Lily (Young), Sarah (Waterhouse), Bex (Nef), Em (Abra). Four girls who live their lives by their phones, hook-ups, and secrets in Salem. When the Mayor’s online life is hacked and exposed to the town, his salacious behind-closed-doors activity spark fury amongst the righteous community – the faceless desperate for a pound of flesh and scandal, all hoping they aren’t the next victim. When half of the town is hit by a giant data hack, fury erupts and the people of the town turn on each other as secrets and dark sides are revealed, and the four girls face a fight to survive the night.

 

When the movie opens with a “trigger warning” – including sex, drugs, transphobia, racism, sexual assault, murder, fragile male egos, and toxic masculinity – you know you’re in for a ride and for the majority of its runtime, Assassination Nation puts you front row on the rollercoaster. Levinson delivers a no-holds-barred account of modern America (and other nations, I’m sure) in this Trump-era – fear and righteousness rule simply to prevent the loudest shriekers being drawn in. Toxic masculinity runs riot as teenage girls are simply there to lust over, request naughty pics, harass and govern and when none of that is given, the knuckle-draggers come to life. Homophobia and transphobia are rife and racism is real, especially when those ‘wronged’ aren’t white. Let’s face it, none of this seems fanciful in this day-and-age that we live in, however, that doesn’t negate its power. The idea of using guns as a counter-argument, though, is either a clever irony or a strange oversight.

 

Odessa Young carries the movie as Lily Colson, the teen at the heart of the movie and really the main character, despite an ensemble being touted. Whilst not receiving a whole lot of depth, she’s an interesting character and Young’s performance. The remaining cast are under-developed across the board, though Hari Nef (herself a trans woman) receives more screentime than the rest (especially in an unnerving scene later in the movie that really riffs off of the Salem Witch trials). Poor Suki Waterhouse barely receives a name, let alone an arc which is a massive shame. As a foursome, they all work well together and have a quirky bond that allows relatability to shine through (despite that lack of development).

 

Not just a flipbook of social issues, Assassination Nation functions well as a thriller also, especially once the movie ticks over the halfway mark. The action is big, showy and blood-spattered peaking with a spectacularly shot home invasion (a one-shot crane effort) set piece leading to a pretty satisfying conclusion. The first half is slower and at times the excitement dips a fair amount leading lulls in momentum, but Levinson ensures that boredom is never achieved. DoP Marvell Rev, similarly, ensures your eyes enjoy a feast of gorgeous visuals with some excellent cinematography.

 

It’s not hard to imagine females relating to the events on-screen – this movie is steeped in feminism and is a brutal injection into the zeitgeist that enough is enough. Women are depicted as the enemy in the modern, public eye and whilst some may find the messages too-much/exaggerated or maybe not important, try telling that to Levinson and the female foursome here, though, they might kick your arse in return. A ferocious satire for now, when Assassination Nation really ramps up, it hits like a baseball bat to the back of the head.

December 3rd 2018

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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