Overlook Film Festival 2023 Review: Accused

Coming from the UK to the Overlook Film Festival is the world premiere of Accused. Directed by Philip Barantini (Boiling Point) and co-written by Barnaby Boulton and James Cummings (Boiling Point), Accused tells a story of mistaken identity, racial profiling, and a modern-day witch hunt.

A young man named Harri (Chaneil Kular) living in London takes a train out to the country to pet sit for his parents. While on the train, news breaks that there was a bombing at the London station Harri had just left. Shocked by the tragedy, but relieved he’s safe, Harri continues on his journey. As he sits in his family home, he’s unaware that misinformation about the bomber’s identity is spreading like wildfire all over social media, and it’s pointing the finger at Harri.

Accused is incredibly tense and anxiety-inducing. Much of that is thanks to how the story is told. The audience watches Harri be blissfully unaware of the hate spreading online about him over something he didn’t do. It makes you want to scream at him through the screen to warn him what’s happening. Yet, when Harri does finally realize what people are saying on social media, he’s helpless to stop it. It’s a situation in which there’s no right thing to do. If you’re silent, it’s an admission of guilt. If you proclaim your innocence, you’re attacked for being a liar. Harri can do nothing from his parents’ remote cottage as rumors turn to hate, hate turns to plans, and plans turn to actions. While the first half of Accused feels like a psychological thriller, the latter half shifts into more of a home invasion film. Instead of just experiencing anxiety from the uncontrollable spread of rumors, the tone shifts to full-fledged suspense and fear as Harri has to fight for his life over a crime he didn’t commit.

The various themes throughout this film are important and relevant to today’s sociopolitical climate. What is potentially the most obvious topic is the prevalence of shootings and bombings in today’s world. To take that even a step further, the film discusses how quickly those attacks are attributed to terrorists, especially terrorists from predominantly Muslim countries. Accused addresses these themes by having a bombing carried out by a white man. Much of the initial social media posts mention how they believe it was a terrorist attack and immediately start in with the racial profiling and slurs. The film then examines how quickly rumors and conspiracy theories spread online, often with little or no evidence, making people feel justified in their hate. A single Tweet mentions Harri’s name, just saying he looks vaguely like the one image of the bomber, which is blurry and doesn’t show the man’s face. Having a name, and a face that isn’t white, made it all too easy for the court of public opinion to create their own story of this average London man being a Muslim terrorist. Social media became Harri’s judge, jury, and excursioner without even giving him the opportunity to defend himself or for any real evidence to be brought to light. Watching it happen to Harri is horrifying both in how easily it happens and how easily it is to imagine it happening in real life.

Accused features a tremendous performance from Chaneil Kular (Sex Education, Doctors) as Harri. From the moment we meet Harri, Kular portrays him as just your average, regular guy doing what any man living in London might be doing. This performance not only makes the character seem relatable and endearing, but it helps emphasize to the audience that the only reason the outside world would accuse Harri of such a horrific crime is the color of his skin. As things escalate and Harri has to fight for his life inside his family home, Kular really shines as he’s able to show a range of emotions such as sadness, confusion, fear, exhaustion, and even rage. Kular carries the film upon his capable shoulders and delivers an effective performance, taking the audience along on Harri’s journey.

Because Accused is a film that is very much driven by plot and performance, the filmmakers took a sort of “no frills” approach. The visuals are very straight-forward, yet the cinematography is nice and the depictions of people typing messages on social media after the bombing helps to create the sense of frenzy. There are only a couple of instances where practical effects are needed, but there was obviously great care and attention to detail put into those effects and the wounds look quite realistic. The film also includes a great musical score by Aaron May (Boiling Point) and David Ridley (Boiling Point) that helps to emphasize the necessary emotional responses in each scene.

Accused is an anxiety-inducing thriller that is as suspenseful as it is eye-opening. The filmmakers have created a film that forces the audience to both imagine what it would be like to be in Harri’s shoes while also making them take a hard look at how they contribute to the spread of false information across the internet. It’s a plot that is all too relevant in today’s society while still simply being tense and entertaining for viewers. Kular’s performance is so sincere, it’s impossible not to feel empathy for the horrific situation he’s in. Accused will have wide audience appeal as a sociopolitical thriller and will hopefully change the perspective of some viewers as well.


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