The Sam Levinson-directed Assassination Nation drew the biggest acquisition and became the buzziest title at January’s Sundance Film Festival. Today, the shocking and provocative film shoved aside the superheroes and usual fanboy fare from Hall H as the filmmakers took the stage to try to broaden its potential appeal to include the young-demo San Diego Comic-Con crowd.
The Bron-backed pic was acquired by Neon, and Joe & Anthony Russo’s AGBO in a $10 million-plus world rights deal last January in Park City. It stars Odessa Young, Suki Waterhouse, Hari Nef, Abra, Anika Noni Rose, Colman Domingo, Maude Apatow, Bill Skarsgård, Joel McHale and Bella Thorne. High school senior Lily and her group of friends live in a haze of texts, posts, selfies and chats just like the rest of the world. When an anonymous hacker starts posting details from the private lives of everyone in their small town, all 17,000 inhabitants, the result is absolute madness, leaving Lily and her friends questioning whether they’ll live through the night.
The early moves made to promote the disruptive film have been inspired, including an early red-band teaser trailer that promised sex, bullying, homophobia, giant frogs and torture, to name a few triggers. The film bows September 21.
Levinson told the crowd: “Imagine if the comment section came alive and tried to kill everyone you know and love. That’s it in a nutshell.” The trailer shown in Hall H was pure anarchy, a cautionary tale about what can happen given the freedom to destroy lives on the Internet. It is probably the worst nightmare of higher-ups at Amazon, Google, Facebook or Snapchat. Levinson asked, how can film compete with the emotional roller-coaster that is social media, which provides such an endless array of volatile and charming images.
An extended and scary home invasion scene was shown, and between that and the early attitudinal stuff in the trailer, the movie seems like Heathers meets The Strangers.
It is an unusual entry for San Diego, but prior to the Hall H panel, Joe Russo told Deadline: “This is reflective of a new generations of emerging filmmakers who are very connected to millennials and this younger generation who’ve grown up with technology in ways we did not. Here, narrative is not always primary expression.” Said Anthony Russo: “The reason we bought in on this film was we found it a stunning new style of filmmaking that was branded with a young generation. We live in a time where the message of this movie needs to be heard and sometimes the best way to get the point across is not just through narrative. It’s wired into the heart of how people think now. It fits the appetite here for genre, exploitation, cutting edge filmmaking that pulls no punches. We think it can be championed by the Comic-Con crowd.”
Joe Russo, who said that he has stayed off social media to avoid the beating he might take after the radical ending of Avengers: Infinity War, took the stage with Levinson, Skarsgård (who took this job after playing the murderous clown in It), Waterhouse and Nef. They discussed their own plunges into social media mischief, and the need for responsibility and empathy, none of which was evident in the trailer.
Here was that red band trailer that kicked off the buzz on the picture awhile back: