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Assassination Nation (2019): A Spectacle of Teen Violence



Four teen girls in red leather jackets wielding weapons from the movie Assassination Nation.
Assassination Nation Promo Image

Assassination Nation is a bloody, intense thriller that mirrors a modern-day witch hunt, tackling head-on the chaos and hysteria fueled by sexism, social media, and toxic American ideals. The Ghouls unpack some of the themes addressed in the film as well as confront the issue of the way the film is packaged.


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Assassination Nation (2018)

After a malicious data hack exposes the secrets of the perpetually American town of Salem, chaos descends and four girls must fight to survive, while coping with the hack themselves.

Directed by: Sam Levinson (Euphoria & The Idol)

 

Assassination Nation: Girly Pop Feminism, Gore, & Booty Shorts

by gabe castro


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


Synopsis

Assassination Nation is a bloody, intense thriller that mirrors a modern-day witch hunt, tackling head-on the chaos and hysteria fueled by sexism, social media, and toxic American ideals. It is a seething anti-sexist tale of vengeance with strong femme characters who retaliate to not only blunt violence but the sexualization of their bodies. The film follows the lives of four teenage girls—Lily, Bex, Sarah, and Em—as they navigate the complexities of high school life in the digital age. 


Set in the seemingly idyllic suburb of Salem, the story takes a dark turn when a massive data breach exposes the private information of the town's inhabitants. As emails, texts, and photos are leaked online, the town descends into a frenzy of paranoia, violence, and revenge. Lily is an outspoken teen who is often defending her right to exist in her body. She and her friends try to survive a world that sets extreme expectations upon them and still retain pieces of themselves. Lily and the other girls find themselves targeted by the town's enraged residents, who blame them for the leak.


As the town of Salem descends into madness, the girls must band together to survive the night and fight back against the town. Along the way, they confront issues of privacy, sexism, and the dangers of mob mentality in the age of social media. In a gripping finale, they confront the dark forces that threaten to destroy their lives and the community they once called home.


Mr. Levinson do you mind stepping off your high horse for a minute? I’ve just a few words

The film is brimming with overt commentary, delivered through lengthy monologues and blatant imagery. It reminds me of how we felt Midnight Mass was Flanagan’s diary, his innermost thoughts and explorations given life in those characters. However, this film becomes an incessant diatribe, a feverish blend of hypersexualized teens and violence, interspersed with Lily's musings. Unlike Flanagan's work, which felt both universal and personal, Levinson's feels neither. Throughout, I couldn't shake the feeling that I wished someone else had made this film.


Each moment Lily spent lecturing the audience on their sick, twisted fantasies of oversexualizing women Irecoiled. In one scene, Lily confronts her father who mentions that he “never felt comfortable around” his young daughter when she was naked. Lily asks him why he would put inappropriate connotations on a young girl’s body, his own daughter’s body. Shouldn’t he as a father be able to bathe his young daughter without feeling any type of wrongness or sexual anything? Yes. She’s completely right and I would feel triumph if the film wasn’t screaming that “nudity isn’t inherently sexual” while oversexualizing the bodies of these young girls in the same breath. To have Levinson at the helm, notorious for oversexualizing young girls on screen (Euphoria, the Idol, this), it feels skeezy, undermining itself. 


When we covered Tag, a J-Horror film purportedly challenging the genre's oversexualization and brutality towards young girls, we're left with a question: when does subversion cross into exacerbation? At what point does satire and critical media become just another iteration of the problem? Unfortunately, this film falls into that category.  I wanted so badly to like it and I’ll, begrudgingly, admit there are many cinematic elements that live rent free in my head. I’ll give Levinson some credit in that it has become an inspiration for me to make my own film, to actually confront these stereotypes and social issues without causing more harm. They say, if you want to see a certain story happen and you’re not seeing it anywhere, write it yourself. 

The film spends an absurd amount of time abusing these young bodies on screen. It brutalizes, mutilates, and tortures the girls and then brands them as heroines in the end. It is a rushed version of the Rape Revenge trope (which the Ghouls notoriously despise), only the vengeance feels less triumphant, more tacked on and undeserved. I don’t feel a win when the girls kill their abusers or even when they let them live. The girls themselves have a conversation on Rape revenge horror and how if they wrote the film, they’d brutalize the men and let them play through the fantasy of retribution. 


For all the commentary lauded for its feminist undertones, it is the feminine forms that are most brutalized. Their pain at the center of the screen. The real villains, plainly the men screaming “We are good people” as they manhandle and grope at bloody, teenage bodies are never given the same torture. Their ends are met quickly, through gunshots at a distance or a swift slice to the neck as they gurgle into death just off the screen. Don’t criticize pornography and then make a career out of making artsy teen porn, Levinson. Don’t throw stones in your oh so glass house. 


My last rant about Levinson is that he is a thief. In more ways than one, stealing the careers of young women who refuse to conform to his unnecessary demands for skin and submission. And a thief of art. The most well-known aspect of Euphoria (other than Zendaya is an amazing actor), is the gen z aesthetic. Ads, trailers, entire dream sequences of Euphoria are drenched in a very specific look. That look belongs to photographer and videographer, Petra Collins. Petra was contacted by the Euphoria team to consult and work on the show given her amazing art. She was set to direct episodes and help them complete the lewk. Only, when the time came for her to make good on this opportunity, the team said she was “too young” and pulled out. Stealing her designs and entire artistic identity for a show she never got to work on. 


You may recognize Collins’ work if you watched any of the music videos from Olivia Rodrigo’s Good 4 U album. Her work is stunning and undeniably the inspiration of Euphoria. Collins has also done an amazing photosets with the actors from Euphoria which you should 100% check out. Levinson, you owe her and literally anyone who’s worked with you an apology. 


But don’t look at me, don’t take your hate out on me. I just got here.

I digress. As I mentioned, I so badly wanted this film to be made by someone else. So let’s unpack some of the themes addressed in the film and just keep in mind how none of it matters because Levinson’s involvement perpetuates harm. In the midst of violence, the vengeful third act sees Lily standing in front of a comically large American flag (“subtlety? Never heard of her” - the movie). In a lengthy monologue, she confronts both the townsfolk and America itself. As the town relentlessly pursues Lily and her friends, she metaphorically and literally turns the gun on the rest of the community.


“They may say it's because I’m behind this or that I’m a whore, I’m amoral, I’m a homewrecker. I deserve it, I have it coming. I didn’t hack anyone’s shit and I don’t know who did. As for being a whore, amoral and a homewrecker? Sure. It doesn’t hold a fucking candle to your righteousness. That’s the real sickness here, your righteousness and hypocrisy. It's the simple fact that you can’t live by the rules you set, yet you still pretend. This is your world, you built this. If it’s too strict, tear it the fuck down. But don’t look at me, don’t take your hate out on me. I just got here.”


“From the moment I arrived all I was given were orders. Smile, open up, cross your legs, spread your pussy, speak softer, scream louder, be quiet, be confident, be interesting, don’t be so difficult, be strong, don’t fight back, 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.”


In a review in the LA Times, titled 'Assassination Nation' is exploitative horror that has the gall to lecture us on grrrl power, Katie Walsh speaks truth, “Dude really tried to mansplain the virgin/whore paradigm in the midst of this exploitative claptrap.” Levinson is doing entirely too much, so heavy handed in his “See? I’m not like all men. I get it.” It’s groomer behavior. He’s lost in his own pride and so far up his own ass he doesn’t see how harmful the film actually is. In discussing the mob of faceless townspeople, Walsh explains how they’re not even the true villain, the artful misdirection of Levinson’s filmmaking. He distracts us with the violence and blatant lectures while palming the truth away,  “That may be representative of the chaotic random evil of an anonymous attacker, and the hateful hetero white male mob, but visually, Levinson makes clear his target. He and cinematographer Marcell Rév, who establish a leering gaze directed at the girls’ nubile bods, take much delight in wringing every sexy moment out of attacking young women, shooting scenes of violence that are gratuitously pornographic.”


To have Lily, in front of that American flag, preaching through the very screens that held her nudes (sent to a grown man who suffers no repercussions by the townspeople) mere hours ago, igniting a lackluster revolution of young women everywhere when in every opportunity Levinson objectified this young girl while claiming feminism. Nudity isn’t inherently sexual, but it is when you do it like this, bud. 


On a last note on the laughable feminism of the film, Walsh gave me a good laugh saying, “​This is common in the horror genre, but this goes above and beyond. And the difference is that Dario Argento never ended his films with a bone-headed lecture about feminism.”


Some last themes the film covers are mob mentality, Lily gives some bullshit statistics on how some people are good and others are bad but oops you didn’t consider the internet in that.  American Values or the Eroding of Civil Liberties, lightly glazed and mentioned in the monologue tirade. One scene where I felt they did it truly right was when the girls call the police for help but the cop that shows up contributes further harm. Believable.  And lastly the Illusion of Privacy. Whether this is the idea that anything we do or have done on the internet disappears, or the idea that we are not to be held responsible for our behavior online. There is an illusion of separation, that our internet selves are someone else and therefore free from repercussions. But the witch hunts existed before the internet and though this mob donned Purge-style masks to retain their anonymity, most monsters say the quiet parts out loud and wear their hatred as a badge of honor. 


There are quite a few things I enjoyed about the film and on our first watch, I dug it a lot. After years of forever wearing my media literacy glasses, it’s hard to see past this representation. It’s why Lily’s speech feels forced and like a lecture while America Ferrera’s incredibly similar speech in Barbie can hit significantly harder. Representation extends beyond on-screen characters; it includes those behind the camera. Despite Levinson's claims of involving young actors in the process, his continued dominance in storytelling feels inappropriate. He teased us with colorful, girly pop feminism and delivered gore and booty shorts. It sensationalizes and capitalizes on the very issues it claims to condemn, thereby undermining its purported message. The use of sexual violence lacks depth and meaning, serving only to shock and titillate rather than to provoke genuine reflection or critique. It is an insincere critique of these issues, instead of offering a meaningful examination of the ways in which society pathologizes female sexuality, the film reduces these complex issues to mere spectacle.

 

Assassination Nation: The Illusion of Goodness & Security

by Kat Kushin


RED: Quotes, someone else's words.


The Illusion of “goodness” and the American Dream

The rewatch of this film definitely hit me differently than it did the first time. When we had initially covered this film, we really loved it, and I think it’s one of those things as we grow and expand the strength of our media analysis glasses, our opinions are just going to change sometimes. I think a big influence of this feeling is because of the state of the world. 2018 internet feels different than 2024 internet. This watch just wasn’t as cathartic, and honestly hit us on the other end of that, where Gabe and I both just felt depressed about the world after finishing the film. The horrors of the world right now are so vast and all encompassing because of the internet, that seeing a film that felt as 2018 as it was, just added to all the stress we were already feeling. Witnessing the hypocrisy of the town, and their violent denial of accountability felt too close to reality.  


There was a piece of this film that did stand true to the test of time, that we’ve discussed before, which is the perception of “goodness” and the concepts surrounding impact over intention. We’re witnessing the real impact of American harm, self righteousness and hypocrisy live, literally every day on our phones. We are inundated with information at a rate and scale that is genuinely overwhelming. America literally is being outed for what it really is, right now at a comparably unprecedented rate, because we’re unlearning so much, and realizing so much about what our government is actually doing. At least, depending on your algorithm, and how plugged in you are to social media. What we see playout in Assassination Nation is the collective fear of accountability, and scapegoating that America is very familiar with.  Especially the generations that were not raised on this level of connectivity and access to information. Those more attached to the system will fight to preserve it because it is what they perceive as “right” even if the impact is harm to innocent people. The message I took from Assassination Nation, is that America is the town of hypocrites and assholes, and we need to be the united front of humans banding together to protect people from harm and deliver accountability. 


This film also calls to the power of the internet, in a way that is slightly dated, but acknowledges just how uncontrollable the internet really is. There is a random teen that is on screen for a minute who talks about not sympathizing with the people getting their information spread because older generations are fighting against something that can’t be stopped. The reason the government (a collection of fossils) fears tiktok is because that app spreads info at a speed that is too fast for them to control the narrative. We are learning what this country really is, we are learning who the real bad guys are, and they like really don’t want us to do that. They are reacting to our protests, our callouts, and our delivering of accountability very similar to how the suburban town did in the film. With violence, self-righteousness, and ignorance. 


Data Security and Privacy

Much like the snarky teen said in the film, “Privacy is dead” and we might as well accept that. The American government only cares about privacy and data protection as long as they can be the ones to  exploit American data. Meta’s use of tracking, and the lobbying against other social media platforms is an example of this. While it’s not as flashy and dramatic as videos being shared to our neighbors, or our texts being leaked to people we know, our data is being shared with thousands of companies everyday. In an article titled Each Facebook User is Monitored by Thousands of Companies on the Markup by Jon Keegan. They delve into the extensive scale of data tracking by Facebook, as revealed by a study conducted by Consumer Reports. This study used data from 709 volunteers who shared their Facebook data archives, finding that an average participant's data was sent to Facebook by 2,230 companies, with some having over 7,000 companies involved. The study, supported by The Markup, highlighted "server-to-server" tracking, where data goes directly from a company's server to Meta’s servers, a form of tracking typically invisible to users. Although the study’s sample may not represent the general U.S. population due to its self-selected nature, it still provides a rare insight into data collection practices. Meta defends its transparency tools, but Consumer Reports pointed out issues such as unclear data provider identities and ignored opt-out requests. Prominent companies like LiveRamp, Home Depot, Walmart, and Amazon were frequently found sharing data with Meta.


The study examined two types of data collection: custom audiences and events. Custom audiences involve advertisers uploading customer lists, while events include interactions like visiting a website or physical store, often tracked via Meta’s pixels or SDKs. This form of tracking can reveal sensitive activities, such as dialing suicide hotlines or booking medical appointments. To view data shared with Facebook, users can access their data through Facebook’s settings, though the process is cumbersome and may leave users with lingering questions due to the vague identification of many companies. Consumer Reports and privacy advocates recommend several policy changes to improve data privacy, such as data minimization strategies, enhanced powers for authorized agents to act on behalf of consumers, increased ad transparency, and better readability of data made available by Meta. These recommendations aim to shift the burden of privacy protection from consumers to businesses and legislators. Despite Meta’s commitment to evolving data practices, the absence of a federal privacy law limits consumer options in most states.


When it comes to other kinds of data leaks, apparently there have been 14 major data leaks so far this year, including Ticketmaster, JP Morgan & Chase, Dell, Dropbox, The US Government, Trello, and Bank of America. 


Helpful Article on How to Turn Off Facebook Tracking 


Young People and the Internet

There are countless threats to young people on the internet but one major one is the digitization of important records and assets. Apparently, young people are the targets of hacking and data leaks especially recently. In an article titled:  Hackers are targeting a surprising group of people: young public school students on NPR, they unpack a cyberattack in which many young people’s data was released/stolen. 

In February 2023, Minneapolis Public Schools experienced a severe cyberattack where hackers stole and released sensitive data, including Social Security numbers, school security details, and information on sexual assaults and psychiatric holds, after the district refused to pay a ransom. The breach affected over 105,000 people, with data that included health records and privileged information now accessible online. This incident reflects a growing trend of cyberattacks targeting K-12 schools as they increasingly rely on technology. Data breaches can have long-lasting consequences for students, including identity theft and the misuse of sensitive personal information. Children's identity information is particularly valuable to hackers since it can be exploited for years before being detected. Schools store extensive data beyond just grades, such as medical histories and disciplinary records, which can be used by cybercriminals to cause significant harm.


The Minneapolis attack exposed the vulnerabilities of schools' data storage practices, and advocates note that Black and brown students, who are disproportionately disciplined, are especially at risk. Stolen records can impact students' futures, affecting college applications, job prospects, and legal outcomes.

Parents like Celeste Gravatt and Rachael Flanery expressed their anxiety and frustration over the breach. The district offered free credit monitoring and guidance on preventing identity theft, but the steps were overwhelming for many parents. Gravatt took measures to protect her children’s credit, while Flanery felt unable to take action due to the complexity of the process. The incident highlights the need for better cybersecurity measures in schools and support for affected families. 


This has nothing to do with Doxxing which is a whole other can of worms to unpack, but does pose a more threatening image of the digital age. 

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