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“Innocence”: A step forward for Down Syndrome Representation in a Shocking and Captivating Thriller

“Innocence”: A step forward for Down Syndrome Representation in a Shocking and Captivating Thriller

A body, a witness, a suspicious person, and a determined policewoman: all the ingredients for a standard investigative thriller that have permeated cinema over time to become staples of the genre. But what if the setting wasn’t a dinner party or a seedy back alley, but a care home? 

What if the protagonist wasn’t a hardboiled detective, but a person with Down syndrome who resides at the home? What if the story wasn’t as straightforward as you thought?

Ben Reid’s Short Film “Innocence”

Innocence” — a short film directed by Ben Reid — uses its unique premise to not only oppose these narrative conventions, but also to challenge the audience’s bias toward people with disabilities. In doing so, the film becomes a different approach to this type of story that is not only entertaining but emotionally impactful too.

The plot follows an investigation into the death of a care home worker, Mike (Richard Glover), whose corpse is found outside the home after being apparently pushed out of a window. The Lead Investigator (Alice Lowe) quickly comes to suspect another caretaker at the home, James (Laurence Spellman), an ex-convict with a drinking problem and behavior that screams guilty. The key to the whole mystery is James’ brother Dylan (Tommy Jessop) a resident of the care home with Down Syndrome who was caught on CCTV examining the body. 

Ostensibly the protagonist of the film, Dylan’s recollection of the events leading up to Mike’s death drives the narrative of the film and takes it to dark and disturbing places beyond what you’d expect from the premise. As a viewer, I thought I’d figured out the whole story by the halfway point and was ready to write it off as a generic mystery film. Instead, I found myself shocked and invested as the story came together.

Not only does the narrative go in many unexpected directions, but it’s also refreshingly unique among its genre—firstly for its basic premise of a murder mystery in a care home, but also for its casting of an actor with Down syndrome as the main character. Dylan is not just an extra or a token side character but a fully fleshed out protagonist in this story.

Jessop undoubtedly carries the film with his performance, portraying his anger, sadness, and guilt with a powerful depth. His role in this film can almost definitely be considered an important milestone of representation for people with Down syndrome. Though shows like “Glee” and films like “The Peanut Butter Falcon” have been lauded for casting actors with Down syndrome, their representation in Hollywood is still lacking. 

As Reid says in his director’s statement, he was inspired by his younger brother with Down syndrome to make this film as a way of giving him “the character he’s always been denied.” In Dylan, Reid has created this character. One who is capable, interesting, and has agency beyond the biased perceptions people hold of him.

Despite being a powerful and captivating story, the film is not without flaws. The twists of the narrative — while undoubtedly shocking — may seem contrived and divisive to some viewers. And while I deeply enjoyed the way the film was written, I could not help myself from finding some glaring plot holes.

Nevertheless, “Innocence” is an exceptional short film, a well-written and powerfully acted crime thriller the likes of which I rarely see. It presents a hook that is compelling from the very start and uses it to act as a powerful example of representation in the artform. If you have any interest in the crime or mystery genre, “Innocence” is a short that is well worth your time.