Director: Babak Anvari | 1h 50mins | Horror, Sci Fi
A young graffiti artist who targets the homes of the wealthy, breaks into the house of a Judge only to put himself and those closest to him in danger.
The copious amounts of films and television available to audiences nowadays feels never ending. Multiple streaming services pack their catalogues with as much content as possible including a slew of original content that feels almost impossible to keep up with. The latest film to join a long line of subpar, often forgettable Netflix thrillers is Babak Anvari’s I Came By, a British thriller that boasts a great leading performance from Hugh Bonneville but never quite lives up to its flimsy message.
1917’s George Mackay and Percelle Prescott play Toby and Jay, lifelong friends from difficult backgrounds who now see themselves as vigilantes. They break into nice houses and spray paint the walls, trying to fight the system that abandoned them one wall at a time. It’s a nice sentiment, but for a film that is so loud about its message, it never really commits to the many threads it opens up for itself. It splices in the odd reaction video to the vigilantes work and half-heartedly gives Toby a few moments of hot-headed passion (which comes across more as teenage angst), but these moments are fleeting in a film that is much more interested in the ‘thrilling’ side of its storytelling.
As a thriller the film does have its moments, as Bonneville’s quiet and gentlemanly exterior begins to turn sour, but these small moments struggle to save a much bigger problem. One too many references to Tony Blair, the angsty spray-painted walls of Toby’s room and the small details make this script feel dated. It’s no secret that screenplays float around the system for years sometimes, and while that may not be the case for Anvari and Namsi Khan’s script, the small details make an already fractured story feel like a product of a different time.
One too many Tony Blair references aren’t the film’s only issue though, the need to break the film up by essentially replacing its main character is completely jarring. One minute it’s Toby playing a cat and mouse game against the villain, then it’s Toby’s Mother (played by Kelley Macdonald) and then finally it’s Jay. On paper this idea probably adds shock value, but what it actually does is dissipate any sense of connection you have with any of the characters. It’s a bold move that doesn’t pay off, giving you even less to latch onto in a film that is already so thematically scattered.
There is one constant though – and the only reason to watch the film – which is Hugh Bonneville’s turn as Judge Hector Blake. Bonneville’s talent for playing the archetypal English gentleman has shaped his career, but in this role he uses it with much more sinister undertones. His ability to be polite while possessing a real evil in his eyes is unlike anything he’s ever done, and as Toby discovers a man being held hostage under Blake’s house for the first time, Bonneville’s performance from that point on steals the show. He’s cold, calculated, entitled and as a character, Hector’s generalisation and cold-heartedness is the only part of the film’s message that is abundantly clear.
I Came By struggles on too many levels to reward it for anything other than its villain though, and while the film can be rife with tension at times, its flimsy commitment to its themes and odd pacing choices add it to a long list of Netflix films that will be quickly forgotten.