THere’s an incredibly devious turn from Hugh Bonneville at the center of Netflix’s new thriller I Came By, a film that sadly has very little else to do with believability. He plays wealthy ex-judge Hector Blake, who finds himself caught in a class-based battle of wills when socially conscious graffiti artist Toby (George MacKay) discovers something nasty in his basement. Toby and his friend Jay (Percelle Ascott) have gained notoriety in London for breaking into the homes of the wealthy and leaving the “I Vine By” tag behind, but when Toby digs deeper into Hector’s house, he discovers something he can’t ignore. . He calls the police, but Hector’s connections and wealth make him an impossible target, leading them to war.
We’re in adjacent territory to other home-invading thrillers that find something unpleasant like The Collector, Don’t Breathe, and, more closely, Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs. But to the credit of British-Iranian writer-director Babak Anvari, along with co-writer Namsi Khan, the film doesn’t exactly play out as we might expect given his forebears. The details are never particularly surprising, and it feels like a short twist in the last act, but the structure and changing protagonist exceed expectations (even if the final change borders on too much).
We begin by spending time with MacKay’s middle finger maverick to the system, a rather awkward piece of misinterpretation that sinks much of the first act. MacKay, as believable as a plumpy soldier who walks into Hell in the movie 1917, is less convincing at the other end of the class spectrum, with an affected accent and personality so jarringly misguided that I almost questioned whether that was the point ( a brief aside from another character about others having less than him and what he thinks he has, he suggested maybe, but if so, it needed another beat to work). The 30-year-old actor isn’t a believable 23-year-old either, so scenes of him sulking and criticizing an ever-reliable Kelly Macdonald as his beleaguered mother (only 16 years older than him in real life), play a part. a bit like sketch shows exaggeration.
His performance looks even worse against a fantastically obnoxious Bonneville, who gently sinks into the dark side of his well-established upper-class nice-boy persona, taking everything pretty seriously, even when things get pretty silly. He is a monstrously outsized villain role, a vicious psychopath corrupted by the evils of extreme privilege, someone many of us can completely believe in. But his character and his performance are far more effective than the film surrounding him (a monologue explaining his backstory is eerily well acted, even if the hows and whys are woefully lacking) and thus the idea of him trapped in a survival game is more satisfying than the reality of it.
There are half-somber attempts to position the story as a contemporary cautionary tale about what the higher-ups get away with, and the film’s grim worldview is impressively free, but the social commentary, if you can call it that, it’s simplistic at best. It’s a suspenseful thriller first and foremost, but despite the setting, which involves a lot of hide-and-seek, it’s oddly lacking in suspense – a mostly slow-paced genre exercise that needs more energy. The price paid for the sometimes exhilarating character changes is that we struggle to find someone to get us through it all, no character other than Bonneville’s that carries enough weight or specificity.
Anvari, who impressed with his 2016 layered ghost story Under the Shadow, delivers a slightly more cohesive film than his last, gangly English debut Wounds, a well-made but poorly written moody horror about an evil phone, but it still fails. the target he hit effortlessly with the first of his. The last few scenes in particular are disconcertingly off-key, with a direct use of Everybody Wants to Rule the World from Tears for Fears leading the credits, at the end of a movie that claims to have said something profound but leaves you struggling to hear what it could be. . Bonneville’s performance will endure, the film not so much.