I CAME BY. Graffiti killed the cat
Toby Nealey (George MacKay) and Jay Agassi (Percelle Ascott) are two graffiti artists who, in the name of a Robinhood-esque ideology, break into the luxurious homes of the wealthy and leave their mark in the form of a striking, but not necessarily fitting to the decor, “I came by” sign. Looking for a new “victim,” the men come upon the impressive estate of former judge Sir Hector Blake (Hugh Bonneville, known from Downton Abbey), who seems an easy target. Not for the first time, however, appearances are deceptive, and a routine heist turns into a harrowing and life-turning experience.
Director Babak Anvari gained attention in 2016 when he made his feature debut Under the Shadow, for which he even won a BAFTA award. Three years later, he returned to the horror genre with the not-so-well-received film Wounds, starring Armie Hammer and Dakota Johnson. However, the lack of success of his previous work did not discourage Anvari from the conventions of horror cinema, so I Came By is a gripping thriller whose atmosphere would be the envy of many a decent horror film. Through the genre’s relay of inducing fear and anxiety, Anvari reckons with Britain’s colonial past – for Sir Hector Blake is not only a collector of historical artifacts from the days of the British empire, but he also has a few other secrets that make one suggest that he longs for the times when the British ruled more than just their modern lands….
I Came By isn’t one of those stiff Netflix thrillers in which it’s clear from the start who’s evil and how he’ll end up – probably killed in a final, devastating battle from which the main character will emerge battered but victorious. Anvari’s film in places turns from a thriller into a detective story, in which the investigation itself seems more important than its effective conclusion, only to return fully to an almost horror convention in which suspense and a sense of danger even pour off the screen. Hugh Bonneville is amazing in the role of a suspicious judge who seems untouchable – it turns out that a gray-haired smiling 59-year-old with the apparel of a distinguished gentleman can be extremely scary! Perhaps it’s a slight misuse, but the impression he makes I would compare with the one made in me years ago by the character of Hannibal Lecter – a psychopath, but with class.
The demonic antagonist
Without wanting to give too much away – although the trailer for I Came By is already highly suggestive – I’ll just write that Babak Anvari has done his homework and in his latest film we no longer experience the mess that prevailed in Wounds. The director skillfully builds up the position of Judge Blake, who seems to be an invincible opponent – not thanks to incredible physics or an army of hoodlums at his service, but due to his intelligence and cunning. Hugh Bonneville’s demonic performance is undoubtedly one of the strongest points of I Came By, but Kelly Macdonald, known from both parts of Trainspotting and Boardwalk Empire, also performs convincingly, playing Toby’s somewhat jaded but extremely determined mother. The whole thing is complemented by the disturbing yet mesmerizing music of Isobel Waller-Bridge, the sister of Phoebe, star of the Fleabag series (for which, incidentally, Isobel also composed the music).
I Came By is a thriller with a bonus – not only does it follow all the basic tenets of horror cinema conventions very well, but it also hooks on issues of post-colonialism, racial prejudice and social privilege. Babak Anvari is undoubtedly a filmmaker with potential – so far his career has developed rather reluctantly, with a few twists and turns along the way, but hopefully the successful I Came By will get it back on track and we will gain another ambitious filmmaker of contemporary anxiety cinema alongside Ari Aster, Robert Eggers and Jordan Peele.