Bullying, toxic masculinity, guns, nationalism, murder… giant frogs? The trigger warnings at the beginning of Assassination Nation are enough to unsettle the most resilient cinema-goer. Yet amidst all the blood and extreme violence (the squeamish should probably sit this one out), there glimmers the film’s refusal to shy away from poignant and timely social issues.
Social media hysteria, data leakage, revenge porn, blackmail, slut-shaming, vigilante action. In case you were wondering, “this is the story of how [the] town Salem, lost its motherfucking mind,” all following the fallout after an anonymous hacker leaks private information about its inhabitants, and widespread violence ensues in order to find the culprit.
And at the centre of it all are four teenage girls, played by Hari Nef, Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse and Abra. We chatted to model-turned-actress Hari Nef about the film…
How did you first get involved with Assassination Nation?
The script found me. My friend was like, “I think you might like this.” I read it, and was just really curious about it. I wanted to hear more. Took it to my agent, and when they started casting Bex, I went in, had my audition and then I came back with my callback with Sam [Levinson]. We really hit it off right off the bat. It was the day after the US Presidential election, so emotions were running high. Those more emotional scenes from my callback were not very much of a stretch for me that day.
The film is pretty brutal – what drew you to the script?
I was really excited by the film’s representation of teenage girls. They don’t really want to admit it, but they’re kind of living rated-R lives, and speaking rated-R language, and having rated-R sex. It’s difficult for a lot of us to talk about, and it’s something that representations of teenage girls in the media just ignore completely. And this felt real, brutally real. It’s unfamiliar to find something that feels true to how girls are, and how they talk and how they act. Especially if it’s written by a man. So there’s sort of a double-shock there. My favourite scenes, both watching and shooting, were the ones where we’re just hanging out talking shit.
And how did you prepare?
I tried more broadly to understand, and reflect on, and live in the emotional reality of being a teenager. Which isn’t so different from my or your emotional reality, it’s just everything’s happening for the first time and the world is so much smaller.
Exactly, heightened. There are no options when you’re a teenager – you can’t find new friends, you can’t move city, you’re stuck with what you’ve got and have to make the best of it. It feels like there’s almost not enough room for these huge emotions – love, rejection, sex, fun. It will never be as vivid as it was when you were a teenager, so I tried to access that vividness.
Did you relate to your character Bex?
I related to her a lot and also found her quite aspirational. She’s so confident and smart, and sure of herself in a way that I wasn’t when I was her age. I thought she was cool.