The latest nerve-shredding thriller from Philip Barantini, Accused, is a depressingly accurate portrayal of a society driven by technology and poisoned by xenophobia.
Such is the heavy presence of the online world in Philip Barantini’s (Boiling Point) latest film, it could just as well be titled #Accused. So much of the danger and tension in this home invasion thriller stems from the technology and social media present in our modern day society—like 2018’s Searching, but not quite as bludgeoning in its portrayal of the online world. In Accused, Barantini plants classic home invasion genre tropes into our present, which results in a swift and breathless, if a little uneven, slice of cinema. Despite viewers needing to suspend some sense of plausibility when watching it, Accused is chilling in how accurately it depicts mob mentality informed by racism.
Harri (Chaneil Kular, Sex Education) is a normal young man of Indian heritage. Accused starts with him spending some time with his girlfriend in London before he heads home to the countryside to dogsit for his parents. On his way, there is a bomb attack on a London train station (the amusingly named Central Junction Station). Phones ring off the hook, social media lights up, and panic sets in. Nevertheless, life goes on for Harri. He arrives at his parents’ house, eats dinner with them, and spends the evening after they leave watching television with the family dog.
His night—and in turn his life—is upended when a shoddy, pixelated image of the terrorist responsible for the attack circulates online. A person from his old school (wrongly) decides she knows who it is: Harri himself. From here, Accused takes flight in dramatic and terrifying fashion, as this one person’s tweet naming the terrorist as Harri Bhavsar is pounced upon by other users across all of social media. Instances of racism that have flowed in all night become directed at our protagonist, with news stories even running bulletins with Harri’s face front and centre. Kular excels throughout Accused, but it is in these initial moments—when Harri first sees his name being thrown about as the suspect—where he shines brightest, as he captures the intense fear and sheer panic one would feel in such a situation.
The entirety of Accused is shot with an urgency that never flags, but in these latter, more panic stricken moments, Barantini’s film sizzles with a dangerous dynamism, much in the same way that his glorious feature Boiling Point did. There is less to latch onto in Accused than that one-shot wonder, but both are firecracker examples of cinematic stress. Alex Fountain’s (Boiling Point) snappy editing does a lot of the legwork in keeping up this energy without ever being overbearing, whilst Matthew Lewis’ (Boiling Point) flowing cinematography further maintains the tempo whilst keeping the action clear.
Despite these strengths, Barantini doesn’t add anything fresh to the home invasion section of Accused; the urgency never dwindles, but this part lacks inventiveness. It feels fleeting too, with the buildup preceding it sitting as the far more compelling aspect of Accused. Perhaps most notably, a clogging, stilted script bogs the film down; there is welcome humour in its earlier stages, but unlike in Boiling Point, the characters feel far more loosely sketched—even that of Harri.
What Accused does best, however, is portray a scarily accurate version of our world today. It might be set in Britain, but the racial injustice and xenophobic abuse on show is not just restricted to this one island. Barantini shows a strong eye for setting and era, with the online world he depicts hitting so very close to home; keyboards and phones take on a loathsome air of hatred, a poisonous cloud of aggression spreading as quickly as this drastically incorrect rumour was initially shared. After Harri has gone through a nightmarish ordeal of fighting off two racist vigilantes, the terrorist is revealed as a white man. The public reaction is striking. It becomes one of understanding and sympathy, not hatred, which indicates Accused’s greatest strength: how realistically it depicts the warped, uneven society we all live in.
Accused will be available to watch on Netflix from September 22, 2023.