(director/writer: Sam Levinson; cinematographer: Marcell Rev; editor: Ron Patane; music: Ian Hultquist; cast: Odessa Young (Lily), Hari Nef(Bex), Suki Waterhouse (Sarah), Abra (Em), Colman Domingo (Principal Turrell), Anika Noni Rose (Nance), Maude Apatow (Grace), Cody Christian (Johnny), Cullen Moss (Mayor Bartlett), Kathryn Erbe (Rebecca Coulson), Susie Misner (Rose Mathers), Danny Ramirez (Diamond), Kelvin Harrison, Jr. (Mason), Noah Galvin (Marty), Joe Chrest (Lawrence), Caden Swain (Donny), Jeff Pope (Officer Richter), Jennifer Morrison (Margie), J.D. Evermore (Chief Patterson), Lukas Gage (Eric), Bill Skarsgard (Mark), Joel McHale (Nick Mathers), Bella Thorne (Reagan); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: R; producers: David S. Goyer, Kevin Turen. Anita Gou, Matthew J. Malek, Manu Gargi, Aaron L. Gilbert; Neon; 2018)
“A black comedy that gets too heavy to be light and too dumb to be bright.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Actor-turned-filmmaker, director/writer Sam Levinson (“Another Happy Day”), is the son of Barry. He gives us an angry, hysteria orchestrated teenage exploitation film on the social media crisis sweeping across America.
It’s set in the ordinary suburban town of Salem, Massachusetts–leaving us with satirical reminders of the Salem witch trials and how the current accused witches are empowered by feminism to fight back at the men trying to punish them as scapegoats for their failings. The film opens with a montage of ‘trigger warnings’ over such topics as toxic masculinity, drinking, bullying, transphobia, guns, nationalism, racism, murder, the Male Gaze, rape, swearing, torture, violence, fragile male egos and giant frogs. The narrator is an 18-year-old senior in high school, Lily Coulson (Odessa Young). She tells us that “This is the story of how my town lost its motherfucking mind.” She goes on telling us about her party-girl, druggie, sex crazy, texting, three best high school friends–Bex (Hari Nef, transgender actor), Sarah (Suki Waterhouse) and Em (Abra). They become the only help she gets when she’s having a tough night because a mysterious hacker has revealed dirty secrets, texts and nude photos online about the townies and Lily comes under attack when a spineless nerd local hacker (Noah Galvin) blames her for being the slut whose computer passed on their texts, after pressured by the cops to squeal. Through a flashback we learn that the real hacker is unknown and has hacked into the anti-gay mayor’s (Cullen Moss) computer and reveals his hidden vice of dressing up as a woman and masturbating. When he commits suicide, his death goes viral. This is followed by the mysterious hacker leaking secrets about the well-regarded principal (Colman Domingo) as a pedophile, who is then forced to resign even if this is not true. The town is in a tizzy when thousands of accounts are also hacked, including Lily’s sexual texts and nude photo to an older married man (Joel McHale). Because Lily’s computer is believed to be the cause of the hack, the young men in town threaten her life and only her girlfriends come to her aid from the violent attacks made on her. spoiler alert. After the girls repel the attacks by force, it’s revealed that Donny (Caden Swain), Lily’s younger kid brother, captured by the FBI, is the real hacker and is facing a life sentence for his actions. When his father asks why he did it, Donny responds, “I don’t know, for the lulz?” To like this stylish but inane gross-out film, one would have to like its one-dimensional sisterhood of avenging angel heroines and their gory solution to the social problems it faces (whose heavy action responses seem to be made for another movie).
The serious message about the dangers of the social media it tries to soft peddle as its underlying message, is hard to take seriously in such a flippant thriller. It’s a black comedy that gets too heavy to be light and too dumb to be bright. What it gets right is to expose how privacy has been compromised by the social media in contemporary times and how divisive are the times we live in. What it gets wrong is answering every wrong from either side with violence, rigidity and self-righteousness.
REVIEWED ON 12/1/2018 GRADE: C