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MOVIES: I Came By - Review

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I Came By is a laboured, meandering thriller that feels its length – it comes in close to two hours when the reality is a tight 90 minutes would have helped this one so much. It’s set in London and is the latest film from Under the Shadow director Babak Anvari, his third feature, on the back of the less than successful Wounds which was also largely buried on Netflix with little to no promotion, much like I Came By, which arrives in the top 10 chart and not much fanfare and in this case it's easy to see why.

The protagonist of this is George MacKay’s graffiti artist, who leaves the words “I Came By”, scrawled on the home of the rich elite as an act of defiance. He’s 20-something, fit and athletic – and Mackay owns the douche-iness of the character Toby, you wouldn’t want to be his friend and his relationship with Kelly Macdonald’s character, his mother – his even more estranged; Lizzie tells him to clean up the mess he made in the kitchen – but he’ll do it later he says, whilst heading out. At home he watches YouTube Channels that declare war on the “woke” whilst at night – with his partner Nas, played by Varada Sethu, excellent, he continues his graffiti crime spree until they stumble into the house of the wrong man: Hugh Bonneville’s demented Hector Blake, an esteemed judge who on the surface has a heart of gold, but is hiding dark and sinister secrets beneath the surface.

Spot the Hitchcock references in this – and you will, because there are plenty, I Came By feels like it harkens back to not just his British films like Frenzy but the classics like Psycho and Rear Window, capturing the sense of paranoia that its lead characters develop marvellously, building the sense of suspense right from the start. There are some spooky moments in here that enhance the atmosphere of the film in a way that feels incredibly accomplished – and make no mistake about it – Under the Shadow was terrifyingly human. Much of I Came By relies on that humanity too – Anvari is a real actors’ director, and gives MacKay, Macdonald, Sethu and Bonneville plenty of screentime to choose from and enough to develop the characters in their own elements and create their own lives, even if it does drag the pace down a lot with not enough time to resolve half of the subplots effectively; as there feels a bit too much like an easy connection of the dots between all of them.

There’s a big moment in I Came By that happens surprisingly early on but beyond that what plays out is entirely predictable and the big moment isn’t done with the respect that it needs to in order to work feeling largely like an afterthought; once it does happen you’re fully aware of what territory and direction it’s heading in but to its credit the film does surprise you before then – if only because it goes out of its way to shock you. In that regard it’s almost too ambitious – tackling too many things at once, and just because you use A Clockwork Orange music over your title card doesn’t mean that you are Stanley Kubrick – Anvari’s own homage to the genre almost gets the better of him at times, but at least the ‘be careful who’s house you break into’ tropes aren’t exactly the same as say, Don’t Breathe.

Unfortunately – the big swing doesn’t land and nothing that Anvari has to say about politics or social injustice really lands. It feels cold and empty, hollow with a distinct lack of authenticity – maybe because of the Netflix polish that makes it look indistinguishable from 90% of the mainstream Netflix fare? There’s nothing truly ground-breaking about I Came By, which feels like a real shame given its premise, something that Anvari has been working on in some form or another since film school, was ripe for another Attack the Block-sized surprise.

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