I Came by Movie review (2022)
Thrillers can be challenging to write about without giving anything away, but I Came By appears to be especially difficult. Not because the plot is particularly twisty but because the surprises it contains are crucial to the overall effect. It benefits from the sense of the authorial hand of writer-director Babak Anvari, making a few solid and thoughtful decisions about both narrative and style that aren’t exactly typical of the genre and which end up providing the most food for thought. Viewers with the background to admire them properly will most likely enjoy it. On the other hand, those who engage with it on a macro level may find it less than the sum of its parts — gripping enough to leave them positive about the experience but not entirely convinced of the validity of this formal experiment.
I Came By is named after two young graffiti activists, Toby (George MacKay) and Jay (Percelle Ascott), who made headlines by breaking into upper-class homes and spray-painting that phrase on their walls. Jay learns that his girlfriend Naz (Varada Sethu) is pregnant after their most recent successful job, and making a political statement no longer seems worth the risk of jail time. That leaves Toby on his own to deal with their next target, Sir Henry Blake (Hugh Bonneville). On paper, the esteemed former judge is perfectly commendable. Still, the cynical Toby believes the old-money aristocrat is good at image management, and he decides to hit the house anyway. But when he unearths a dark secret hidden in Blake’s basement, he unintentionally puts himself and his loved ones in grave danger.
While this review will not go into detail about what happens next, it’s safe to say that Toby was correct to be suspicious, but the difficulties of dealing with someone like Sir Blake are apparent. He has connections that elevate him above suspicion. On the night of Toby’s break-in, he leaves for a game of squash with a police supervisor, even though the anarchic, 23-year-old tagger has little social clout. The web of characters who could stand up to Bonneville’s villain is indeed frayed. Toby and his psychologist mother, Lizzie (Kelly Macdonald), argue constantly; Naz endures family trouble of her own to stay with Jay, who then risks eroding their relationship by keeping his past exploits a secret. No one knows everything at any given time except the viewer, and much of the tension stems from the heroes’ attempts to act without all the necessary information. And I Came By isn’t afraid to punish those actions with terrifyingly serious consequences.
Outside of the plot, Blake and the nature of his secret indicate that the film is about the unique type of sinister influence that can only come from someone of his background and status. The casting of the Downton Abbey star is intended to keep a specific image of Englishmen in the minds of viewers so that Anvari can use it for social commentary. In some ways, it makes I Came By the evil twin of 2014’s Paddington. As the film progresses, the audience learns more about Blake’s childhood, but unlike other thrillers, this one uses it to chip away at the story he tells himself. Parenthood is a theme throughout I Came By, and the consequences of an unhealthy parent-child relationship, in particular, appear in almost every character’s storyline. But the way this manifests in Blake and shapes the object of his rage is unique to him — it is the result of his whiteness, wealth, and hereditary sense of entitlement. Regardless of how invested the audience becomes in the characters as individuals. The film never lets them forget that the real evil is the system, of which Blake is only a twisted manifestation.
However, while there are scenes where the message is conveyed, it does not have the same impact as expected. There is another telling textual parallel here. Early on, there is some debate about whether Toby and Jay’s graffiti-based activism makes a difference. How much worth is there in the act of “coming by”? The film’s apparent allusion to the potential hollowness of its political gesture is intriguing, but it ignores the issue rather than confronting it. The story itself has a similar problem in that it is written with more care than the average thriller, but it isn’t any more thrilling. There is a genuine risk that an audience unfamiliar with the genre will dismiss I Came By as standard Netflix fare, but even those who notice its clever touches will be left wondering why it didn’t amount to more.
Movie Name: I Came By (2022)
Run Time: 1h 50min
Released date: 31st August 2022
Stream on: Netflix