Welcome to Cheat Sheet, our brief reviews on festival films, VR previews and other special event launches. This review comes from the Sundance Film Festival 2018.
In October of last year, a few days after several women accused producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault, his frequent collaborator, Woody Allen, expressed his fears of an "atmosphere of witch hunts "for men. Since then, countless people have called the #MeToo movement that followed a "witch hunt," a hyperbole that equates powerful men who lose jobs with mass executions.
The film Nation Murder written and directed by Sam Levinson ( Another Happy Day) also uses a metaphor for witch-hunts. But instead of condemning the supposed excesses of feminism, it is a fantasy of furious revenge and often uncomfortable and antisexist. In the words of the cast member Colman Domingo during a question and answer session, "it is a war against toxic masculinity, whatever the cost". And in Assassination Nation the hunt ends with death: many, many deaths.  What is the genre?
Extremely forceful social satire about sexism and social networks, mixed with the horror of the crazed little town and the drama of high school.
What is it about?
Lily ( High Life Odessa Young), Sarah ( The Bad Batch Suki Waterhouse), Bex ( Transparent & # 39; s Hari Nef), and Em (newly arrived Abra) are high school girls who live in the suburban city of Salem. Their lives revolve around the party, sex and social networks, until an anonymous hacker starts downloading the data from Salemites' phone and computer at 4chan. At first, the hacker points to authority figures like the mayor, whose family values platform masks a hidden life of transvestism and Craigslist connections. But then, half of the city's secrets are uncovered, including a relationship between Lily and an older neighbor.
The revelations tear Salem, and Lily's life apart. Her insensitive boyfriend finds out about the adventure and publishes her information online, her unsympathetic parents throw her out, and strangers harass her violently in the street. Things get even worse when a classmate accuses Lily of being the hacker, and a violent mafia comes after the four girls. Fortunately, they are far from being helpless and slowly turn their pursuers around.
What is it really about?
How hypocrisy, lack of empathy and willingness to jump to extreme behavior are destroying the United States. Also, how many people are pure evil and have to die.
Okay, that is a bit simplistic. The central interest of Assassination Nation is to examine the ways in which women are pushed to conform to gender stereotypes, and then punished for embodying those stereotypes, by both men and women . In the film, hatred towards women and femininity poisons the whole society. It turns the sex of a mutually pleasurable activity into an unbalanced transaction. It makes life impossible for people who do not fit in orderly and differentiated boxes, including Bex, a transgender teenager. Encourages men to lash out violently when their masculinity is threatened.
Internet amplifies these problems by turning each action into careful action, producing a record of everyone's secrets and allowing people to act cruelly without having to come face to face. (Eventually, the townspeople begin to put on masks to replicate the same phenomenon offline.) Levinson said after the screening that the real villain in the story is not social networks, but the "lack of empathy"
But most people in Nation neither deserve nor receive empathy. Paraphrasing part of Lily's narrative, there are three kinds of Salemites: a few good men and women, a few sadistic hairs and a crowd of passers-by happily participating in the crowds of misogynist hatred. The last two groups become increasingly and irremediably monstrous as the film progresses. Cat-callers, vigilante policemen, transphobic athletes and predatory older men are one step away from becoming cold-blooded killers, and the only way to stop them is to kill them first.
Is it good?
Murderous Nation deals with adolescents and the Internet, two subjects that, in general, are despicable in the cinema. But while it is easy to hang on YouTube videos "lighted", "perfect" selfies and 4channers doing things "for the lulz", the film presents a fairly plausible and nuanced representation of social networks and doxxing, at least until everything goes down to complete anarchy. High school scenes are also reproduced to the point of satire, which makes any strange "teenspeak" more digestible.
On the other hand, the best and worst attribute of the film is its absolute rejection of the subtext. All the philosophical threads from which I can draw Assassination Nation are also the subject of an extremely exhaustive conversation or an internal monologue. Levinson says he spent a lot of time just reading what young women were putting online, and that he works a surprising amount of contemporary feminist discourse on his script, sometimes at the cost of breaking the narrative flow.
That aesthetic of the minute ago Nation of Annihilation frequently cathartic. The film takes visual inspiration from The Purge obviously its spooky masks and omnipresent American flags. But it lacks even the slightest row of allegorical science fiction sheets. Its protagonists are fighting against the real (though exaggerated) flavors of misogyny, but adopting a scorched-earth approach that lies miles away from the strongest calls in the real world for equality. In the real world, we are debating precisely what sexual predators a man can get before it is worth complaining about, and ordering women to empathize with people who do not believe they are completely human, but Lily and her friends do not suffer that moral ambiguity . . The back half of the film is an almost uninterrupted action, since they play a game of cat and mouse with the invaders and the itinerant gangs.
But in the end, that also makes it feel a bit bitter. Assassination Nation leaves space for reconciliation and exchange, but only for a select few. For the most part, it does not make sense to connect with people who refuse to return the favor, because they will only take advantage of you. That is a message that feels good to hear at this moment, and in many cases, it seems to be true. But it is also exactly the kind of ethos that Assassination Nation is supposedly warning against.
What should be qualified?
R for graphic violence, less graphic sex and many generally disturbing scenarios. If you are looking for something more specific, there is a real series of activation warnings (transphobia, attempted rape, "fragile male egos") at the beginning of the movie. It's a strange moment that is played semi-jokingly, but honestly it's a pretty effective flash-forward device.
How can I see it?
Assassination Nation opens in theaters on September 21.