Tag Archives: Suki Waterhouse

‘Assassination Nation’ Is an American Horror Story

Summer is often seen as a time to celebrate the USA. Yet, many of us wonder what there is to celebrate. With people of color, women, and the LGBTQIA+ community in constant battle for basic human rights, there isn’t a whole lot making us want to party and shout, “Yay, USA!” A film that perfectly encapsulates this energy is 2018’s Assassination Nation.  

Written and directed by Sam Levinson (Euphoria), Assassination Nation is a take on the Salem witch trials set in the technological age. The film follows a modern-day high school senior named Lily (Odessa Young). In many ways, Lily is your typical teenage girl. She goes to school, parties, and spends time with her three best friends, Bex (Hari Nef) and sisters Em (Abra) and Sarah (Suki Waterhouse). Their lives are thrown into total chaos when a hacker starts to leak various individuals’ personal files; from emails to texts to personal photos, and everything in between. It starts with the town mayor, then the high school principal, and soon then the personal files for half of Salem are posted online.

Nick (Joel McHale) is among those whose information is leaked. His leaked texts reveal he is in an extramarital affair with a girl who (wisely) left her face out of all the scandalous pics she sent him. Unfortunately for Lily, her boyfriend recognizes her birthmark in one of the photos, and he exposes her for having an affair with an older, married man. This also leads to Lily’s own family disowning her and kicking her out of the house. 

With the town in turmoil, people begin to seek revenge on those they believe have wronged them. A large group of men go so far as to roam the town, masked and armed, trying to uncover who leaked the information. When the IP address is connected to Lily’s house, the men automatically assume she is the hacker since she is already a town pariah. They go to Em and Sarah’s house, where Lily is staying, and a shootout leads to the murder of Em and Sarah’s mother. Sarah and Em are taken by the police, who are in on the attack, while Lily and Bex escape separately. 

The final moments of the film are a whirlwind. Lily is almost raped and murdered by Nick, but she manages to stab him and escape. She finds a cache of weapons and uses them to kill the cops, freeing Em and Sarah. Bex is captured by a group of guys from her high school who try to convince Bex’s flame, who was exposed for hooking up with Bex in the leak, to hang Bex because she is transgender. Lily, Em, and Sarah rescue Bex and kill her attackers. Lily decides to make a video explaining she is innocent and did not leak everyone’s secrets. She also encourages others to come and fight back against those who wish the girls harm. As Lily, Bex, Em, and Sarah walk into battle, armed with their found weapons, we watch as more and more young women come to join them. In the end, it’s revealed that Lily’s younger brother was the one behind the leak. 

Levinson is not subtle with the themes in Assassination Nation. While the four friends are clearly popular, they also simultaneously exist outside what suburban America would consider societal norms. Lily is very sexually active, is confident in her sexuality, and is sleeping with a married man. Bex is a transgender woman who is also secure in who she is. Sarah and Em are quite self-assured and are part of an interracial family. In many ways, they go against the society built by and for cisgender, heterosexual, white Christians. Even more so, they go against a society created by and for men. 

Assassination Nation differs from most of the Uterus Horror films I’ve written about in the past because there is no journey to self-discovery. These girls already know exactly who they are, and they aren’t ashamed to be themselves. Rather, the Uterus Horror of this film is in how the world around them reacts to seeing these teenage girls breaking the rules of what conservatives view as respectable society. Some might watch this film and think it’s an exaggeration and, in some respects, it is. I doubt an entire town would take up arms against each other. Yet, on a smaller scale, what each of these girls go through individually is not too far from real life. It’s not uncommon for women and femme presenting people to be viciously attacked by men for any number of reasons. While there are scenes that are an amplification of scenarios like this, they are still very much rooted in reality. 

The film also touches on many of the different ways young women and femme individuals can be targeted. Lily is hated by her town partly because they think she is the hacker, but mostly because she’s sexually active. Despite the moral implications of her having an affair with a married man, all the blame is still placed on Lily, whereas Nick is the one who’s married. He’s also the adult in this situation while Lily is a teenager. The way the town so readily attacks Lily while Nick, who in a position of power as the adult, gets off relatively easy is indicative of the way women are treated in our society. Whether you agree with her actions or not, Lily did not deserve such horrific treatment. 

Bex is another great example. The only reason she is a target is because she’s transgender. It feels all too real when the high school jocks round Bex up and plan to hang her. Transgender people are often attacked and murdered simply for existing as their true selves. It’s that knowledge, acceptance, and confidence in who you are that scares many people. 

While this can be said of the entire film, the final moments of Assassination Nation are a call to arms against the patriarchy. Lily, Bex, Em, and Sarah, clad in their red trenchcoats, walk head-on into the men who want to own or destroy them. When other girls and young women come to stand behind the friends, it lets the audience know that those who are willing to fight against the Christian conservative patriarchy are not alone. There is nothing these men fear more than strong women. It’s a Uterus Horror film that sends the message to not only stand up against tyranny, but to also be unapologetically yourself in the process.