A few days ago, “Avengers: Infinity War” co-director Joe Russo put a few of the $2 billion the tentpole just earned toward an opening weekend ticket to “Eighth Grade.” If the selection sounds surprising, remember that Russo and his brother, Anthony, made their dual debut 21 years ago with “Pieces,” leaping from obscurity when Steven Soderbergh caught the film at Slamdance Festival. Also, Russo is a father who knows what it’s like to raise a 13-year-old girl.
At San Diego Comic-Con Thursday, Russo commended Bo Burnham’s first feature: “I saw ‘Eighth Grade’ this weekend, which is a fantastic film.” The praise came during a panel for fellow 2018 Sundance premiere “Assassination Nation,” which NEON and the Russos — via their company, AGBO — acquired at Park City for $10 million. In “Assassination Nation,” a young female quartet fights for their lives as their town (present day Salem, Massachusetts) descends into violent chaos after every single resident’s phone is hacked.
Festival origins and teen protagonists are not the only similarity Russo sees between the features. “I feel like film is changing in a way that’s reflecting how this generation receives information, and I think it’s important,” he said, flanked by “Assassination Nation” writer-director Sam Levinson, and cast members Bill Skarsgård, Suki Waterhouse, and Hari Nef. “I think it’s important for things to change, we want to support that change, and we want to support this incredible cast and this amazing filmmaking.”
Earlier in the Hall H talk, Russo explained why he and Anthony founded AGBO 14 months ago. “Now that we’ve gone on this journey that we’ve gone on, we’ll be using the leverage that we have off of the work with Marvel to start our own studio. And I feel like we owe a karmic debt to the universe to foster and support amazing voices that are in filmmaking. And I saw this film and I was completely blown away. It feels like a whole new generation of filmmaking.”
What appealed to him about “Assassination Nation” are likely the same factors that inspired A24’s bid for “Eighth Grade,” now being called a Best Original Screenplay Oscar candidate. He called Levinson’s result, “a thoughtful movie, but it’s got an incredible narrative. It’s intense, it’s fun to watch at times; it’s really, really hard to watch at other times. It’s very complicated, and it feels very of this generation. It is a new style.”
Assassination Nation arrives in theaters on September 21.