Sold as a sociopolitical thriller with a class conscience, the end result of Netflix‘s I Came By is something starkly different, overblown at times and a ravaging of sadism and violence. Directed and co-written by Babak Anvari who is best known for his oppressive allegorical thriller Under the Shadow about the Iran-Iraq War, we’re initially following a punkish graffiti artist named Toby who targets wealthy homeowners in acts of protest against Tory Britain.
Played by a risibly miscast George MacKay (who is otherwise one of the best young actors around) doing what can only be described as a Harry Enfield impression turns his focus towards an outwardly progressive former high court judge played by Hugh Bonneville. Such is the thriller convention, the judge is a far cry from his public image with a basement and a hidden door that keep his secrets far from view. But when breaking into his house, Toby discovers unspeakable horrors with the message being that you should never trust anyone that plays squash or owns a kiln.
The biggest issue comes at the midway point with a bait and switch that is both preposterous and incoherent only for the screenplay to then do the same thing again in the third act. The switcheroo upends the tension built in the first act as the narrative decision is so left field that you’ll spend the rest of the film wondering if it really happened.
There are hints and suggestions that I Came By will interrogate poverty and privilege across its overstuffed plot but just as it veers in that direction, the macabre grabs the wheel and decides to commit grisly murder. The opening third does take a wry jab at the milieu of Britain in 2022 – with suit-wearing uppity types tutting at homeless people – but the London of I Came By is essentially anonymous. Despite being filmed and acted with po-faced sincerity, nothing feels authentic or lived in and the odd attempt at addressing real-life socioeconomic problems also feels callow. The most interesting thing Anvari does is make the prey of the judge society’s most marginalised – refugees, gays, single mothers – but there is no strength to cross-examine these ideas that merely float in and out of the picture.
Much of the problem with I Came By does arise from its treatment of death – there’s a distinct revelling in the misery many of the characters experience that is both ugly and hollow and completely out of tone with a film that presents itself so seriously. This isn’t an exploitation film but kills like one. Characters exist only to heighten stakes and then to dispose of. There’s a particularly rancid scene of cruelty involving Kelly Macdonald’s character that like much of the rest of the near two-hour film, plays merely for insipid shock value. Bonneville is suitably menacing as the judge-gone-bad, and watching him invert his affable posh bloke persona is amusing but it isn’t enough to save this horror show.
- Director: Babak Anvari
- Starring: George MacKay, Kelly Macdonald, Hugh Bonneville
- Release date: August 19 (Netflix)