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Assassination Nation review - explicit, extreme and disturbingly real

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Verdict: an undeniably powerful, violent, and sometimes confusing depiction of womanhood in the technological age.

Assassination Nation (2018) is a raw overview of female sexualisation in the era of social media and its effects on mental health through the life of four college girls who feel forced to adapt a certain style to be likeable. Directed by Sam Levinson, the story revolves around a computer hack that exposes the darkest sexual secrets in the town of Salem.

Lily (Odessa Young), the main character, is a seemingly confident 18-year-old girl that parties a lot and whose conversations with her best friends Bex, Sarah, and Em are only about boys, sexuality, and social media. It's visible from the beginning that the apparent confidence and everything she does is purely aimed at being loved by everyone, especially guys.

Her efforts to satisfy his boyfriend’s needs while sending the perfect nude photos to her “daddy”, possibly a paedophile, are disturbing and upsetting, especially after the realisation that such acts are an accurate representation of many girls’ lives. But there is a lot more to the story.

After a leak of private nude photos, Major Bartlett (Cullen Moss) from Lily’s college kills himself. It's shocking, and it doesn't stop there - Lily is the next target. The panic this naïve girl feels when she notices she's being watched through her laptop camera, and that the nudes sent to her “daddy” are all over social media, is horrifying to watch. Even worse are the responses from her family and boyfriend, who turn on her completely.

Behind the “hashtag blessed” and the unbreakable confidence are the hearts of four teenage girls whose lives are completely shattered into pieces.

Most scenes make a parallel between nudity and sexuality, and how these are so easily to blame. Although sexuality is an increasingly discussed topic, nudity is a little behind, and despite how often it appears on our screens, there hasn't been a film until now that so clearly reflects the pressures that young girls increasingly face. This film is effective at showing that despite freedom that American society is supposedly built upon, isn’t completely free yet.

An initial warning advises the audience that rape, torture, homophobia, violence and sexism would appear in the film - an unusual but entirely necessary warning. 

After the leak of Lily's photos, there is a confusing and quite disappointing change of settings, as suddenly the four girls are chased, abused and almost killed by a group of men in masks. The way they regain control is epic, however without any more revelations, the scene is unexpected and difficult to understand. It seems like a good hour of the film is missing, as the line of events doesn't make much sense.

There is also a dilemma surrounding the intriguing and disconcerting message of the film: it seems to be motivating girls to keep doing whatever they feel like doing and win against society’s judgements. However, both the characters and the public know that the way Lily and her best friends were living was irreparably toxic and led to immeasurably terrible consequences. 

The director’s aim is understandable: women should live however they want and take control over their lives, that is a clear point. But what if they’re brainwashed into believing that by being sexual and liked, they will be happy? And that is how they want to live? It truly gets messy here.

It is important to mention that this film is able to achieve what not many do: sparking a discussion amongst audiences that will doubtless go on for a long time.

The double meaning of the messages makes it hard to draw immediate conclusions. Assassination Nation leaves people with a desire for more, with questions, with unformulated opinions and the need to hear others' thoughts. And, after all, perhaps when films exert such an influence on viewers, it means that something was achieved. Not sure what, but something. It is impossible to feel indifferent after watching it.

Assassination Nation is in cinemas on November 23rd. Watch an exclusive clip below.

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