Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Director Philip Barantini was responsible for 2020’s kitchen-set drama Boiling Point, and here he demonstrates the same mastery of tension."

How do you feel when a major terrorist event occurs in your area? Your answer may well depend on whether or not you belong to a minority which is associated with such attacks in the public imagination. If, say, you’re a young Muslim man, you’ll experience the usual concern for the victims, worry that loved ones may have been caught up in it, and so on, but you’ll also experience something else – the fear that comes with knowing that racists will use it as an excuse to whip up hostility and place you at risk of violence yourself.

Harri Bhavsar (Chaneil Kular, best known for his TV work in Doctors and Sex Education) passes through a major London station on a trip out into the countryside to see his parents and look after family dog Flynn whilst they’re on holiday. He’s nervous because he’s vaguely planning on telling them about his girlfriend Chloe (Lauryn Ajufo) for the first time. Partway there, he’s shocked to learn that there has been a terrorist attack at the station he just left. He quickly gets in touch with his loved ones to let them know he’s okay, and marks himself safe on social media. After arriving and comforting his mother, he retreats to his childhood treehouse for a bit of alone time.

It is what it is. He has a meal with his parents and enjoys it despite his misgivings. When they’re gone, he settles back and watches an old horror film, peasants storming a castle with torches and pitchforks. What he doesn’t quite take in is that a similar mob is forming online. Someone from his old school has seen a picture of the bombing suspect, cap tilted down over the eyes, with a similar build and beard, and commented that it looks like him. With racist and Islamophobic sentiment running high, and lots of people excited by the idea of playing detective, it’s not long before his presence in the station that day has been confirmed and people have decided that he must be responsible. Watching this play out online is frightening enough – even after the police have assured him that such things usually blow over. It gets really scary when people start digging into his personal details and making it clear that they intend to come and find him in real life.

Director Philip Barantini was responsible for 2020’s kitchen-set drama Boiling Point, and here he demonstrates the same mastery of tension. The online events build up slowly, in the background of what seem like more pressing matters. We see worrying little bits and pieces on Harri’s laptop screen even when he’s not giving it his full attention. Flynn, sitting in the hallway, barks at something he can hear outside. Chloe calls, upset because pictures of her are being shared. Barantini drops is shots of Harri seen from a distance, through the living room door, creating the sense of him being watched. He mixes these with close-ups and point of view shots which make it easy to identify with him or to feel that we too are present in that space and under threat.

The beautifully decorated rural home feels very much like a lived-in space, full of the personality of its inhabitants. It’s warmly lit and ought to be safe and secure, but as the situation develops we become aware of every corner, every obscure angle, each position in which some threat could be hidden. Its isolation ceases to feel reassuring and increases our sense of Harri’s vulnerability. The online world seems like a parallel dimension where all the rules are different, dangerously proximate to our own. Meanwhile, the police continue to investigate the incident at the station. Will they uncover the truth in time and clear Harri’s name? If they do, will people listen?

If you’ve ever faced an internet pile-on, you’ll relate to this, but Barantini also captures something of the specifics of what it’s like to face Islamophobia (viewers should be aware that there’s some deeply unpleasant language used here), and the focus on shared pictures of Harri speaks to the experience of being visibly a member of a stigmatised group. You won’t need any particular experience, however, to connect with the emotion in Kular’s performance, to feel terror at his predicament.

The film isn’t perfect. There are some unlikely incidents early on, surrounding the breaking of the news story, which feels a bit hastily cobbled together. Once Barantini gets into his stride, however, it’s very impressive. Other relevant social issues are deftly woven into the fabric of the story without impairing the pacing, and the tension ebbs and flows very effectively. This may be a simple story but it’s an important one and it’s told in a manner that will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout.

Reviewed on: 05 Apr 2023
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Alone at a remote country house, a young man watches helplessly as a social media frenzy wrongly identifies him as a wanted terrorist. When online threats lead to an IRL home invasion, he must fight for his life in this tense thriller of virtual witch-hunts and false accusations.

Director: Philip Barantini

Writer: Barnaby Boulton, James Cummings

Starring: Chaneil Kukar, Lauryn Ajufo

Year: 2022

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US


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