I Came By Review – Hugh Bonneville Goes Nasty In Silly Netflix Thriller | Thrillers
There’s an incredibly cunning turn from Hugh Bonneville at the center of the new hit-and-miss Netflix thriller I Came By, a film that unfortunately has very little else believable in it. He plays well-heeled ex-judge Hector Blake, who finds himself locked in a class-based battle of wills when socially conscious graffiti artist Toby (George MacKay) uncovers something disgusting in his basement. Toby and his friend Jay (Percelle Ascott) have become famous in London for breaking into the homes of the rich and leaving the tag “I Came By”, but as Toby delve further into Hector’s home, he discovers something he cannot ignore. He calls the police, but Hector’s connections and wealth make him an impossible target, leading the two into war.
We’re in adjacent territory to other home-invaders-find-something-nasty thrillers like The Collector, Don’t Breathe and almost Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs. But to British-Iranian writer-director Babak Anvari’s credit, along with co-writer Namsi Khan, the film doesn’t play out exactly as we might expect given its antecedents. The details are never particularly surprising, and it feels like a twist in the last act, but the structure and changing protagonist raise expectations (even if the final shift borders on too many).
We start by spending time with MacKay’s middle-finger-to-the-system rebel – a rather awkward miscasting that sinks a large part of the first act. MacKay, as believable as a plum soldier walking into hell in the film 1917, is less convincing at the other end of the class spectrum, with an affected accent and persona so horribly misjudged I almost questioned whether that was the point (a brief aside another character about others having less than him and what he thinks he has, suggested perhaps, but in that case it needed another stroke to work). The 30-year-old actor isn’t a believable 23-year-old either, so the scenes where he sulks and rages against an ever-reliable Kelly Macdonald as his beleaguered mother (just 16 years older than in real life) play a bit like sketch-show exaggeration.
His performance looks even worse against a wonderfully loathsome Bonneville, who steadily descends into the dark side of his well-established nice guy persona, taking it all quite seriously, even when things get pretty silly. It’s an outrageously great villain role, a cruel psychopath corrupted by the evil of extreme privilege, never someone many of us can fully believe. But his character and performance are far more effective than the surrounding film (a monologue explaining his backstory is eerily well-acted although the hows and whys are sadly missing), and so the idea of him trapped in a game of survival is more satisfying than the reality of the.
There are half-hearted attempts to position the story as a simultaneous cautionary tale about what those upstairs get away with, and the film’s bleak worldview is impressively unrestrained, but the social commentary, if you can even call it that, is simplistic at best. It’s primarily a suspense thriller, but despite the setup, which involves a lot of sneaking and hiding, it’s all curiously lacking in suspense: a mostly sluggish genre exercise in need of more vim. The price paid for the sometimes bracing character shifts is that we struggle to find someone to drag us through it all, no other character than the Bonneville’s possession of enough weight or specificity.
Anvari, who impressed with his layered ghost story Under the Shadow from 2016, delivers a slightly more coherent film than his previous, clumsy English-language debut Wounds – a moody and well-made but poorly written horror about an evil phone – but still misses the mark he saw effortlessly hit with his first. The final scenes in particular are astonishingly off-key, with an on-the-nose use of Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears leading the credits, at the end of a film that claims to have said something profound but leaves us struggling to hear whatever it may be. Bonneville’s performance will hang, the film not so much.