“Assassination Nation,” a wicked riff on the Salem Witch Trials and our current social media culture, was always intended to be provocative. What Neon, the indie label that bought the film at Sundance, didn’t count on was that many of those same digital giants it skewers would find advertisements for “Assassination Nation” too hot to handle.
As the movie prepares for its debut on Friday, it is having trouble posting clips on Facebook and YouTube. And it’s not just new media. Billboards, one of the oldest forms of hawking products around, are also proving tough to come by.
To be fair, there’s good reason for the discomfort. Neon has definitely been leaning into the film’s more controversial elements. “Assassination Nation” follows four gun-toting high school girls who take up arms against an anonymous hacker who has leaked all of their hometown’s dirty secrets online. Their revenge is bloody.
“We knew that this film was a stick of dynamite,” said Christian Parkes, chief marketing officer at Neon. “We didn’t want to dress it up into something it isn’t. This isn’t a feel-good coming-of-age story. It’s a depressing meditation on where we are as a culture.”
The headaches started almost immediately. Neon was unable to rent billboard space for a red teaser poster that contained the words “Ass Ass In Nation.”
“Every single out of home vendor in Los Angeles passed,” said Parkes. “They thought it was a political ad calling for violence or that it was just plain offensive because it had the word ‘ass’ in it.”
At a time when school shootings have become a horrifying reality and there has been increased awareness about sexual exploitation and assault, it is understandable that media companies might feel pressure to restrict content. Neon believes that “Assassination Nation” is trying to shine a light on these types of issues, not revel in them.
“We’re not depicting a sanitized world,” said Parkes. “We’re making a movie about strong young women. People feel threatened because it is honest.”
Parkes argues that the restrictions has forced the company to be more creative. It has partnered with such apparel brands as Dolls Kill and Pleasures on shirts and clothing inspired by the film. One t-shirt, for instance, has an image of star Maude Apatow being led away in handcuffs under the logo “America.” But the reach of these kind of promotions is limited.
Neon has faced fewer obstacles on Tumblr and Giphy, but the hurdles it has had to navigate on the most popular social media platforms have threatened the film’s release. “Assassination Nation” is primarily aimed at audiences under the age of 25, and they aren’t watching a lot of television. In order to reach them, the studio needs to do most of its marketing online. The film is currently on track to open to $4 million when it debuts on 1,500 screens. That’s not exactly a sizzling debut, and analysts say there are reasons these types of movies are hard to release.
“There’s people out there who like these ‘Heathers’-type of films, but they tend to be more popular on home entertainment platforms,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. “They’re more likely to be cult favorites than big box office hits.”