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Assassination Nation


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NEW YORK (CNS) -- The messy teenage satire that is "Assassination Nation" (Refinery29/Neon) devolves into an often violent, heavy-handed morality tale about our online lives, dark sexual secrets, scapegoating, public shaming and mob violence.

It stops short of being exploitative. But writer-director Sam Levinson, who is more vested in a lengthy set-piece of a home invasion, toys around the edges.

He and the characters keep telling the audience what to think, which gets annoying quickly. Anything sexual is implied, but mayhem and death are right out there.

This necessitates a restrictive classification, although there's very much a moral point of view on display that is almost quaint in its details. All these characters not only know right from wrong, they also know shame, and always in stark terms.

When the plot is clear, which is not often enough, it's structured along the lines of a modern-day redux of the witch trials in 17th-century Massachusetts. To drive that point home, the backdrop is the dystopian fictional town of Salem, where no one is ever happy, including and especially teen girls.

Lily (Odessa Young) is the putative queen bee in a group of snarky friends that includes Bex (Hari Nef), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) and Em (Abra). They're bored and jaded. Nothing cheers them -- not sex, not drugs and not alcohol.

"The truth is, no one wants the real you," Lily reflects. Others are content with just pieces of another person, and not the whole shebang with attendant emotional needs.

Salem has a lot of secrets, many of them involving authority figures, all of them preserved on iPhones and always involving sexual misbehavior. When a hacker exposes Mayor Bartlett (Cullen Moss) with photos of a decidedly kinky private life, Bartlett responds by killing himself in front of a howling mob.

Soon, the hacker finds other targets, and Lily fears she'll be next, since she's been carrying on a discreet texting affair with Nick (Joel McHale), her voyeuristic -- and married -- next-door neighbor.

As the hackings increase, the town descends into paranoia and nihilistic violence. Murders, usually involving baseball bats and pistols, become the order of the day, and there's always a lynch mob ready to form at a moment's notice.

There's no trust in the power of love here, because there's none to be found. But there's not a lot of cynicism, either. When we don't connect to each other in person and instead put the entirety of our lives on handheld devices, Levinson implies, it takes very little to make all of our supposedly safe spaces disappear -- quickly.

The film contains considerable violence with some gore, involving gunplay, torture and suicide, drug use, strong sexual content, including two implied nonmarital encounters, aberrant behavior and an adultery theme, a pornographic image, explicit dialogue and frequent rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service

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CAPSULE REVIEW

"Assassination Nation" (Neon)

Writer-director Sam Levinson's messy teen-age satire devolves into a heavy-handed morality tale about our online lives, dark sexual secrets, scapegoating, public shaming and mass mayhem. The film, which evokes the witch trials in 17th century Massachusetts, stops short of being exploitative, but not by much. The leader (Odessa Young) of a jaded group of teen girls (Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse and Abra). is blamed for a series of hackings that expose her town's seamy side and becomes the target of mob rage. Considerable violence with some gore, involving gunplay, torture and suicide, drug use, strong sexual content, including two implied nonmarital encounters, aberrant behavior and an adultery theme, a pornographic image, explicit dialogue, frequent rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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CLASSIFICATION

"Assassination Nation" (Neon) -- Catholic News Service classification, L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. Motion Picture Association of America rating, R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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