For all the heart-stopping cheers directed at the Chicago-set kitchen drama The Bear, it was Philip Barantini’s Dalston equivalent, Boiling Point, from a year before, that truly captured the heat and the horror of working in a restaurant. Filmed in a single continuous take, it was both a technical triumph and a masterclass in suspense, perhaps fumbling in its over-the-top final moments, but involving enough that by the end you felt too exhausted than a dishwasher ending a busy work day.
Before Barantini’s highly anticipated sequel hits the BBC later this year, he’s created a much higher-stakes thriller, an almost unbearably tense film about the terror of being subjected to a network witch hunt social. Accused is a smartphone version of the age-old wrongly accused subgenre and takes place over the course of a single day as the mundane life of a Londoner descends into chaos that is for the most part terrifyingly easy to believe.
Harri (Sex Education’s Chanel Kular) leaves town to care for her parents as they go on vacation, leaving London moments after a deadly subway attack. We see how Twitter goes from shock to speculation as a CCTV image of the suspect goes viral, with Harri’s girlfriend joking that it looks like it could be his doppelganger. In a well-constructed sequence, Harri watches TV with his laptop open, not looking at the screen as a cascade of tweets begins to appear, with an old school friend of Harri suggesting he might be behind it all.
It remains understandably difficult for most filmmakers to capture the immersive highs and lows of digital communication, both technically and dramatically, too often pulling us in when we should be drawn straight in. Barantini, working with his Boiling Point co-writer James Cummings and debutant Barnaby Boulton, finds a way to visually and emotionally connect the two worlds, Harri’s horror at seeing it all reflected in ours, the Descent proving agonizing for us all to endure. Every careless insinuation, every carelessly shared piece of information, every ensuing insult, it all escalates in terrifying ways, the danger soon leaves the laptop screen and enters Harri’s physical reality. As a British man of South Asian descent, his race is an inevitably depressing deciding factor in the accusation and then in the way he is portrayed, with Barantini unafraid of the vile racism that is easily embraced by people who would otherwise consider themselves moderates, well. -that is, offline citizens.
It is a film of our horrible moment, not only in its digital packaging, but also in its dark snapshot of the ever-increasing, easily disseminated hatred and fear that has further distorted the way people see and treat each other. Although it never reaches those lofty heights, it often brings to mind Thomas Vinterberg’s horrific 2012 drama The Hunt, where Mads Mikkelsen’s simple small-town life implodes after a false accusation paints him as a pedophile. Both films capture the clammy uneasiness of being stuck in a place you fear you’ll never escape, like being dragged by quicksand, the all-consuming terror of being seen as something you’re not.
Kular is a man of devastating empathy, his mounting panic deeply uncomfortable to watch, a thoughtful balance of fear, upset, and disappointment, afraid for his well-being while reminding him of the intolerance around him. It’s a rough first half, but our anxiety is oddly alleviated when hateful tweets turn to hateful violence, the film faltering as it morphs into a more conventional home invasion thriller. It’s not exactly ineffective (the violence is powerfully nasty) but there’s just something a little flattened as more familiar panic scenes seep in, the film becoming more and more like so many others before him, the tension defusing minute by minute. It’s relatively short, just under 90 minutes, but it might have benefited from being made into a tighter hour-long TV series, playing out almost like an anchored episode of Black Mirror. Before it reaches and exceeds the boiling point, the accused packs quite a punch.