Just a few days ago Netflix stealth dropped a chilling new potboiler called “I Came By”. Co-written and directed by Babak Anvari, this crafty yet overly ambitious thriller has a hard time finding the balance between social politics and straightforward genre filmmaking. Yet it still scratches at some meaty themes, and the genre thriller elements are a lot of fun. And it’s nice seeing a movie break from convention, even if its pieces don’t always fit.
Anvari takes an interesting approach to storytelling, ending his film in a dramatically different place than he begins it. He changes perspective several times, shifting between three different protagonists throughput the course of the movie. This infuses the movie’s fairly familiar premise with some unexpected layers. And there are more than a few surprises that keep the story simmering.
Best friends Toby (George MacKay) and Jay (Percelle Ascott) have gained notoriety as what newspapers call “renegade graffiti vandals”. The masked duo targets wealthy and affluent Londoners, break into their swanky homes, and adorn their walls with their signature graffiti tagline, “I Came By”. Driven by their angst-filled convictions, Toby and Jay are products of a radical underground youth culture who are fed up with the establishment’s ways.
But their crusade against the rich hits a speed bump after Ray learns he and his wife Naz (Varada Sethu) are going to have a baby. He bows out of their cause, determined to settle down and be the best father he can be. A frustrated Toby chooses to carry on without his partner in crime, taking aim at a new mark – a recently resigned high court activist judge named Hector Blake played by a deliciously sinister Hugh Bonneville. This is a truly twisted turn from the man who plays the kindly Mr. Brown from the “Paddington” movies.
Saying much more would be doing a disservice as this truly is a movie built around subverting your expectations. So the less you know the better. But it’s safe to say the movie’s change of perspective is key. It starts with Toby but soon shifts to his single mother Lizzie (Kelly Macdonald). She has a hard time connecting with her embittered son, and their turbulent relationship is rooted in some deep-seated pain. Macdonald is excellent, and while I wish Anvari would have dug deeper into her character, Macdonald does a good job making us care. Later, the movie shifts to Jay’s perspective which offers a much different take on the unfolding events.
But it’s Bonneville who makes the movie and takes it to some unsettling places. The film is at its very best when it lets him loose to uncoil the secret side of his otherwise esteemed character. It makes for some gnarly genre entertainment. Yes, shots at capitalism, greed, and corruption are certainly taken. But they don’t quite resonate the way the movie wants. They’re interesting additions that show the film has some things on its mind. But they don’t go far enough to leave an impression. Instead, it’s the thriller elements that energize the movie. Anvari shows himself to be a savvy filmmaker with enough tricks up his sleeve to keep us guessing. And that’s a big part of the fun. “I Came By” is now streaming on Netflix.