There’s timely, and then there’s Sam Levinson’s Sundance hit “Assassination Nation,” which explores a question that continues to confound contemporary society: what happens when someone’s online existence crashes into their offline world?
The film, which debuted at Sundance earlier this year and is hitting theaters this week, explores what happens when that question must suddenly apply to an entire town. It starts with the adults — the high school principal, the mayor, public figures who should safeguard their more nefarious online dealings with care — who are all exposed to their fellow citizens via their supposedly secret online affairs.
Then, it’s everyone, including some of the town’s coolest teens, like high school senior Lily (Odessa Young) and her friends, who have their own secrets to spare. The film also stars Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, and Abra as the rest of the foursome at the center of everything, along with supporting turns from Anika Noni Rose, Colman Domingo, Maude Apatow, Bill Skarsgård, Joel McHale, and Bella Thorne.
In his B- review out of Sundance, IndieWire’s Eric Kohn described the movie as “the most aggressive high-school movie in film history” and one that “intends to make an assaultive statement on the lunacy incited by the first online generation, [with] every scene feels like it’s reaching for a big idea (the press notes begin by quoting Susan Sontag), and while the sprawling mayhem has its moments, the movie works best when tethered to the real world.”
“Assassination Nation” will hit theaters with an R-rating for “disturbing bloody violence, strong sexual material including menace, pervasive language, and for drug and alcohol use — all involving teens,” but there was at least one scene deemed too explicit for the MPAA to allow in the final distributed version of the film, lest it be slapped with an NC-17 rating.
While “Assassination Nation” features a whole mess of wild material, the snipped scene is comparably tame, though it includes one big no-no: a nude woman captured in a sexually provocative position. Understandable enough, but here’s the kicker: it’s simply a drawing of the woman, one that Lily describes in frank (perhaps “explicit,” which is how her artwork is deemed) terms.
In one of the film’s best scenes — one that will not be available to its ticket-buying theatrical audience, per distributor Neon — Lily is hauled off the principal’s office to be reprimanded for drawing naked women, but instead of lashing out, Lily offers up some whip-smart reasonings for why her drawings are actually slice of life stuff.
And, in keeping with the plot of “Assassination Nation,” that’s a slice of life taken directly from increasingly insidious social media pressures, as Lily argues that her drawings are reflective of a world gone mad when it comes to how people appear in fiercely curated selfies, especially the “explicit” kind.
Check out IndieWire’s exclusive clip of the cut scene below (beware, its opening moments are definitely NSFW). Neon and the Russo Brothers’ AGBO will open the movie in theaters on Friday, September 21.