Movie Review: I Came By

I Came By is a strange movie title, which comes to serve as an understated act of vigilantism in the context of this dark crime thriller. Social justice has got to the point where citizen’s arrests of suspected pedophiles are not uncommon. The problem in circumventing actual police work is that the necessary groundwork and procedures aren’t in place. This means that actual criminals can get away on technicalities and innocent people can become scapegoats or the victims of mob justice.

A contentious issue across the globe, I Came By is set in London, where a young graffiti artist tasked with playing Robin Hood discovers a shocking secret about his latest mark. Breaking and entering people’s homes, the smart young man and his friend have made it their mission to expose the corrupt and wicked. Anonymous, their dangerous game runs undetected as they leave their signature ‘I Came By’ graffiti mural on an inside wall to let their targets know the jig is up.

Directed and conceptualised by Babak Anvari who’s best known for horror thrillers, Under the Shadow and Wounds, I Came By has a similar dark horror energy. Instead of leaning into all-out horror, I Came By plays like the sort of film that could’ve been pitched to Anthony Hopkins. Hopkins is best known for his remarkably short Oscar-winning performance as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, which has since been followed up by a deeply affecting performance in The Father. While a hard act to follow, Anvari entrusts another recognisable face in Hugh Bonneville of Downton Abbey fame.

Playing the complete antithesis, this casting shake up is most welcome, trading the rosy-cheeked kindness and vulnerability of Lord Grantham for something leaner and much more sinister. While Bonneville’s type-shattering performance is ultimately I Came By’s trump card, its joker is the wild-eyed George MacKay.

i came by film

“Actually, it was broad beans and a nice Merlot.”

Having made a name for himself on the back of performances in 1917, Captain Fantastic and Munich: The Edge of War, MacKay is eager to live in the moment and brings a raw energy to his role as Toby in I Came By. These two name stars take some pretty big swings but are ably tethered by Kelly Macdonald and Percelle Ascott as Lizzie and Jameel, Toby’s mum and best friend turned co-conspirator.

I Came By is a dark crime thriller that recalls films such as Don’t Breathe and Disturbia, centred on home invasions gone wrong. Essentially combining the core elements from each of these horror thrillers, I Came By fosters a suspenseful and politically-charged atmosphere where the concept of victim and perpetrator are in a state of flux. This cat-and-mouse tension is compelled by full-fledged and fiery performances from its recognisable and talented cast. While the story is familiar, its social justice angle keeps it fresh as two complex yet divergent characters and ideologies clash.

While entertaining and elevated by its stars, I Came By’s splintered by its perspective shift, restrained by its pacing, kept at bay by a modest feel and distanced by its timeline hopping. Unfortunately, I Came By is undermined by an overly ambitious bait-and-switch when it comes to its narrative perspective. There’s a slow-boiling undercurrent to the storytelling but the lack of urgency makes it a bit plodding. Shot during the pandemic, the smallness of I Came By’s world is felt. Then, while already alienating the film zips forward without enough visual clues, creating a stop-start sense of passing time.

This perceived distance and discord is further exacerbated by its supporting characters who are underwritten. Doing just enough to push the story along and play their parts, I Came By struggles to draw empathy for its troubled characters. Any numbness is subverted by intrigue and suspense as Bonneville’s devious and charming spider of a character in Hector welcomes others to his web. Under the thumb of his father’s legacy as depicted by a portrait, this murky back story’s enigma and old empire layering add depth.

The overall quality of I Came By’s ingredients is respectable enough to push through but it is limited by stone-skipping storytelling and superficial handling. While it pales in comparison to its influences, the kernel of social justice vigilantism and uncharacteristic performances from Bonneville and MacKay keep it fresh and intense in spite of its limitations.

The bottom line: Fierce

splingometer 6