WIHM – ‘Assassination Nation’ and the Fear of Existing as a Girl in the Modern World

Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

It’s a hard time to be a woman. Or trans. Or non-binary. It’s hard living in a world where everything and everyone is out to get you. A world where you’re forced to live in the shadows and hide who you really are for fear of backlash for not fitting the norms. A world where your desires and secrets need to be held close to the chest for fear of retaliation. We live in this world every single day, and Assassination Nation gives us a look into what a hyper-stylised version of this world would be like.

Assassination Nation, directed by Sam Levinson, follows four teens in the town of Salem. Lily (Odessa Young), Bex (Hari Nef), and sisters Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) and  Em (Abra). When a hacker begins to release the secrets of the town’s citizens, all hell breaks loose, and the girls are caught up in it. 

Bex regularly has hookups with her crush Diamond (Danny Ramirez) but is forced to keep it a secret as he doesn’t want it getting out that he’s having sex with a transgender woman. Forcing her to keep their feelings and desires for one another hidden in the dark. Lily on the other hand is regularly texting someone on her phone named “Daddy”, regularly sending him nudes behind her boyfriend’s back.

Trans and non-binary people are regularly forced to fit societies mold for fear of retaliation. If we’re not femme or masc enough or disclose that we’re trans we face dangers or harassment, violence, sexual assault. Assassination Nation paints a bleak picture of this in Bex’s story arc as she is forced to hide her relationship for hers and Diamond’s safety and social status. In 2019 there were no less than 26 deaths in the trans/non-binary communities due to violence in the U.S. alone.

The hacker soon does a massive social media and email leak causing even more turmoil in the town revealing that “Daddy” is actually Lily’s neighbour, Nick (Joel Mchale) who is a married man. She is soon disowned by her family and berated by her boyfriend Mark (Bill Skarsgard), and ends up on the streets where she is harassed and nearly assaulted by a man following her in a vehicle recording the entire encounter.

Social media regularly puts violence and sex at our fingertips for better or worse. We live in an age where heinous acts are live streamed, sexual “alt” accounts are far more common and tweets are held against their authors. Social media gives everyone a voice but some awful people still wish to see those voices silenced. Assassination Nation doesn’t sugarcoat the possible negative effects of today’s social climate by presenting us with a violent, over the top portrayal of social media at it’s core and the possible violence and hostility that stems from it.

This leads us to the climax of the film where Lily and Bex are staying at Sarah and Em’s house. A mob has traced the origin of the hacker’s IP address and learned it’s coming from Lily’s house. Mistaking her for the hacker, a group of them break into the house with all them inside which is depicted as one of the most terrifying home invasions on screen. A place that was once sanctuary, now home to brutality and terror in the resulting bloodbath that results in the murder of Sarah and Em’s mother. Fighting off their assailants, the girls discover a weapons cache downstairs. What do you do when no place is safe? You fight back. 

Armed to the teeth the girls make their way out of the house as Bex goes to look for help. In the data leak the hacker has revealed Bex and Diamond’s relationship and his friends shame him for having relations with a trans woman and decide to publicly execute her in retribution. She attempts to reach him and his emotions and is successful in turning him against his friend until the rest of the girls show up and lay waste to them. Had he been a better ally and lover and not attempted to hide or be ashamed of him and Bex, this might have gone down differently.

Leading the charge, the girls start a call to arms to take the town back from the ensuing chaos. What was once a great fear, now something worth fighting for. When you have nothing to hide, only then are you truly free and unafraid. This is one of many themes that Assassination Nation tackles, and in the process provides us with a truly terrifying look at a world that can turn on you in any moment.

Assassination Nation is a unique horror film. Some could argue that they don’t even view it as such. Personally I feel it’s one of the most frightening in the aspect that it presents us with the very real fears that are a part of our everyday lives. Social media, not fitting the standard of society, partaking in activities that society would call “deviant”, and the possible violence and hatred that could follow it. 

by Reyna Cervantes

Reyna Cervantes (She/They) is a freelance writer and screenwriter from the bright skies of southern California. With a wide range of film taste, they find themselves gravitating to any cult films and their favorite films, the Star Wars sagaTheir favorite filmmakers include Nicholas Winding Refn and Paul Thomas Anderson or any filmmaker who has an exceptional use of neon. You can follow them on twitter, instagram, and letterboxd at JFCDoomblade.

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