A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Assassination Nation is a very dark satire about how mob mentality and mass hysteria spread through social media. The movie's extremely strong, over-the-top graphic violence includes lots of gun use/shooting, death (including suicide), and blood (vats of it). There are many other acts of violence and killings that involve a variety of weapons, from a shovel to a nail gun. Characters also discuss pedophiles and joke about rape. Teens have sex (no nudity) and are shown in revealing outfits, and there's constant explicit sex talk. Language is nonstop, with constant use of "f--k," "s--t," "bitch," and many more. Teens drink and smoke pot at parties. Social media is a big part of the plot, and many platforms (Instagram especially) are mentioned by name. A transgender teen character is played by a transgender actress. It's fascinating, but it's also so intense and brutal that it comes with its own comic (but true) disclaimer about its adult content.
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What's the story?
In ASSASSINATION NATION, Lily (Odessa Young) explains that she and her three best friends -- Bex (Hari Nef), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse), and Em (Abra) -- may not make it through the night in their town of Salem. In flashback, viewers see high school students obsessed with partying, sex, drugs, and social media. When someone hacks the mayor's computer and spreads his dirty secrets all over town, he kills himself and ignites an online firestorm. Next, the beloved high school principal's (Colman Domingo) personal info is leaked. Then thousands of accounts are hacked, and Lily's flirty, texting relationship with an older married man is revealed. After someone figures out that most of the town's computer activity is coming from Lily's home, suddenly everyone is out to kill her and her friends. Can the violence be stopped?
Is it any good?
Not the first (or last) movie to tackle social media hysteria, this violent, satirical entry ramps things up. It asks questions about primitive mob mentality and the thirst for revenge, as well as the meaning of identity. Written and directed by Sam Levinson (son of Barry), Assassination Nation layers on the teen partying, sex, etc., and includes lots of flash, crazy camera angles, and wild editing, but somehow it doesn't seem exploitative. (To wit: When one teen girl has sex with the boy she's been dreaming about, and it doesn't go as magically as she'd planned, she's given a moment to herself to cry.)
These teen characters are constantly on their phones, yes, but the movie is about more than the dangers of social media. It includes a quote (uncredited, but from Susan Sontag) about how 10 percent of any population is merciful, 10 percent is cruel, and 80 can be moved in either direction. So, really, this movie is about how, despite people's belief that they're good, people can easily talk themselves into committing terrible acts in the name of righteousness. (Even the main character's own parents throw her out at one point.) This is a big, heavy theme to place on the heads of four teen girls in a violent, dark comedy, and the movie sometimes gets smooshed under its weight, but the end result is still undeniably visceral, undeniably effective, and undeniably timely.
Talk to your kids about ...
What are the dangers and/or benefits of social media? How important is privacy?
How is teen sex portrayed? Are the characters responsible? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
What is "mob mentality"? Have you ever found yourself going along with a crowd, even if they were doing or saying something you wouldn't ordinarily do or say? Why/how do you think that happens?
- In theaters: September 21, 2018
- Cast: Odessa Young, Bill Skarsgård, Suki Waterhouse
- Director: Sam Levinson
- Studio: Neon
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: disturbing bloody violence, strong sexual material including menace, pervasive language, and for drug and alcohol use - all involving teens
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