Assassination Nation

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I have written before about the impact a lack of representation can have on a viewer's experience of any kind of representation, no matter how small. When that representation, however, is much larger, more woven into the narrative, more significant within the film, that impact amplifies astronomically.

There are a lot of things to dislike about this film: the heavy-handedness of the American flag motif, the instances of corny dialogue, the cold dead lightning choices in some scenes, and certainly the fact that this is labelled an "action comedy" while being a rape-revenge exploitation flick. There are moments in this where it's impossible to ignore the way teenage girls are filmed like objects, and in an action comedy that would be unforgivable. In a rape-revenge film, it's still unforgivable, but at least it's expected.

And the thing about expecting it is not just that it means you're ready for it (the trigger warnings were cheezy and sorta offensively done, but also, in retrospect, useful). It's more about priming your mind for a different experience, whether you can handle it or not. It's about how you understand what you're watching. It provides a lens, a way to see the film and connect it contextually to all of cinema. When you're told "action comedy," your context is 48 Hrs or Hot Fuzz; when you're told "rape-revenge" it's another story entirely. In that context, this... doesn't live up to the sleazy 70s grime and beige, taking a more music video-meets-teen movie aesthetic approach that works for the build up, but once the violence begins, the grime is certainly missed.

As some kind of feminist statement, this is a mess, as the rape-revenge genre demands, but there's three very notable things it gets oh-so-right: (1) when it comes to sexual violence against teenage girls, the world will unite to kill them instead of directing its anger at the perpetrators of the sexual violence itself; (2) the fascist mobs will be led by boys in blue and petty bourgeois opportunists; (3) and so most importantly, this film understands what trans representation needs to be:

Hari Nef killing a man while fighting him in a pool... with a nail gun.

Hari Nef kills a dude. She shoots him with a nail gun. While they're underwater. If that doesn't give you faith in this world, you're not a feminist. I don't make the rules, I just interpolate them through a historical materialist lens.

When representation is much larger, more woven into the narrative, more significant within the film, that impact amplifies astronomically. When it gets something right, it feels like manna from heaven. When it gets something right, all the other considerations wash away, and you get to feel what everyone else gets to feel when they watch movies. You see yourself in ways other people get to see themselves for the first time. You get to feel that internal cheer as one of your people shoots a man. With a nail gun. Underwater.

And then you get to see her face the angry fascist mob with a noose around her neck, and you get to feel what everyone else gets to feel when their cisgender, heterosexual heroines are reduced to damsels in distress. Certainly it's a little bit of disappointment that the promise of the underwater nail gun struggle isn't being fulfilled a second time, but there's also something I find so rarely anymore in any kind of film: suspense. Fear. Years of desensitization, of the analytical remove I have inadvertently achieved after thousands of films, just dissolves in the face of seeing a trans woman about to be murdered in an act of collective trans panic amplified by Salem-style mass hysteria.

(I will pause in my fevered recounting of my emotional state through all of this to note that the imagery of lynching applied to a white woman feels off and that this film's approach to race is clearly nothing more than superficial tokenism with some VERY disappointing characterizations. That said, the fact that the only black teenager's mother is the only one to be shown to be on her side is at least something.)

What follows is a moment that should have been done differently. After she is rescued by the only decent cis allies in existence (badass teenage girls wielding firearms), she has the man responsible for her metaphorical witch-burning at her mercy. The message that needs to be expressed here is that that man deserves to fucking die. What he represents here is not some individual transmisogynist asshole, but every transmisogynist asshole. In the last ten years or so, over 4,000 Black trans women have been murdered, many of them by men they had had sex with. Many of them by men they thought loved them. Many of them by men who were saying the exact same things as this macho stereotype. In my head, this moment needed a montage of every trans woman murdered in the last ten years and then Hari Nef shooting that motherfucker's head off. Instead, she obeys the tenets of the Geneva Convention and doesn't kill an unarmed man begging for mercy.

It's sickening. It's disappointing. It's frustrating. It's liberalism. It deserves scorn. But it's not enough to ruin a film completely when it's a film where Hari Nef kills a man by shooting him with a nail gun while they're both underwater.

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