Assassination Nation tells the story of a small town of Salem, which, as the marketing campaign will go on to tell us, completely loses its mind. Written and directed by Sam Levinson, the movie follows a group of girls led by Lily (Odessa Young) as they navigate the social minefield that is high school.
All hell breaks loose when they – and the rest of the town – is targeted by a hack that reveals everyone’s emails, texts, photos and other information. Suddenly all secrets are out in the open and no one can hide behind privacy or anonymity. That leads to an ever-escalating series of attacks and reprisals where law and order seems to be thrown out the window as grudges are settled and dark desires given free reign.
The first two posters both sport the same tagline, reminding us “You asked for it, America.” One features a group of four women standing with their backs to the camera, each wearing a shiny red jacket and sporting some sort of weaponry on their back. The other has a woman on her hands and knees looking at the camera while licking red paint (I think it’s paint) off the white floor.
A bright red background is used on the theatrical poster, with the four lead girls standing in the front wearing their red jackets and holding some serious firepower in a defiant, violent image.
A teaser was released right around the time the movie was screening at Sundance that’s focused on Lily explaining how all the optimistic research about how kind and good people are is rooted in BS that isn’t representative of the real world. The footage is flashy and kinetic, selling a depressing fever dream of a film.
Later on an official red-band trailer came out that hyped up not only that this was based on a true story but so full of offensive and unbelievable events that the footage in the spot is only visible behind the repeated and various trigger warnings shown on screen. What you can see is a movie that seems to push every boundary and touch on every taboo available. An all-access version was released at the same time.
The same kind of town-wide sociopathic behavior is on display in the second trailer, which once again came in red and green-band flavors. This time around there’s at least a reason given for the mayhem that ensues: Everyone’s shit got hacked. No seriously, it’s explained that what began with a high school principal’s phone being hacked then spread to tens of thousands of others and everyone lost their minds because all the messages, private thoughts and other secrets went public and caused everyone to melt down and through polite civilization out the window.
Another trailer, titled “Fierce” and released in mid-September, starts out by showing us exactly what kind of material was leaked, causing the town’s meltdown. Unlike some of the other trailers, this one shows how the girls who have their information revealed are actually victims, at least at the outset. The same insanity follows, but it starts out by showing what an invasion of privacy the hack really amounts to.
At the same time there was a 60-second version titled “Sassy” that was basically just a cut-down version of “Fierce,” following the same arc and containing much the same footage.
Online and Social
The “Fierce” trailer opens the official website, so take a minute to watch that again. Close that and the splash page features full-screen video with a button to buy tickets and links to the movie’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles. On Twitter there was lots of amplifying of fans who were signalling their anticipation of the movie based on the trailers and other promotions. The Facebook page has lots of short GIF-like videos that are framed in bold colors and feature some outrageous captions.
Moving over to the drop-down menu in the upper left, the first section is “Trailer” which has all the trailers. After that is the “Synopsis” where you can read a story recap and see a cast/crew list.
That’s followed by information on two contests people can enter, one the “GIF Challenge” and one the “Scratch Card Giveaway, the former something that’s just online and the latter run in conjunction with Dolls Kills Stores.
“Social Assets” has videos, GIFs and stills to download, all of which have been optimized for use on social media platforms. “Press Assets” also has downloadable assets, including the posters and trailers as well as the press notes.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV spots started running in late August, with a series of commercials that played like cut down versions of the trailer, offered more information on Lilly and her rebellion against conformity or positionedpositioned the movie as a more violent kind of Mean Girls. Some of those videos were also used as paid social posts. Other online ads used video snippets and elements of the key art.
Culture news site Refinery29 ran lots of stories about the movie because of a new deal it signed with NEON to produce and distribute movies aligned with the kind of audience that frequents the site.
Media and Publicity
With a debut scheduled for the Sundance Film Festival, the movie was included more than once on the lists of what people were looking forward to seeing there. That proved prescient as it quickly sold to NEON, which partnered with the Russo Brothers (the directorial team) in an unusual arrangement before the festival was over.
Surprisingly, the movie was among those NEON was promoting at San Diego Comic-Con with cast appearances and more. The jump from Sundance to SDCC – literally from the niche cinephile world to the mainstream entertainment audience – was notable in and of itself. At the premiere, the cast and director spoke about the kind of cultural shifts that have inspired the chaotic, anarchic story.
A Regal-exclusive clip showed the kind of danger the main group of friends the story follows are in. Another clip released to EW showed the attitudes those girls have. Refinery29, which ran some contests for the movie, debuted a clip featuring costar Bella Thorne and also shared an introduction to the various characters.
The whole campaign is designed to upset and shock you. That begins with the initial teasers that serve as one long trigger warning for the content that follows and runs all the way through the various red-band trailers, clips and other materials. Whether or not it works to actually get people’s attention and lives up to that hype remains to be seen, but you can’t fault NEON for not going all-in on the premise.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
This clip is a scene that was reportedly cut from the film to help it elude an NC-17 rating. Notably, the scene depicts the drawing of a naked woman, which is apparently too much for the ratings board.
Hard Nef, the trans woman who plays Bex in the movie, gets profiled here and interviewed here. She also showed uno “Late Night.”
I’d been wondering about the surprising lack of paid advertising for the movie and it turns out that’s because NEON ran into push back from social media companies and others who were skittish about the provocative material being sold.