Netflix’s I Came By fell victim to the same issue as countless other movies made for exclusive release on the steaming platform: it simply didn’t receive any promotion. Featuring an impressive cast of British stars including Hugh Bonneville, George MacKay, and Kelly Macdonald alongside lesser known talents, I Came By is a tense thriller packed with twists and turns. There’s much to enjoy in I Came By, particularly as it’s punctuated by powerful performances from a handful of top talents.
Its initial premise is somewhat simple: the “I Came By” taggers – Toby (MacKay) and Jay (Percelle Ascott) – are two young graffiti artists who break into the homes of the rich and powerful and tag the walls as a form of anti-establishment protest. When he finds himself expecting a baby, Jay leaves his tagging days behind him, and Toby decides to continue alone. However, Toby’s first solo outing goes awry when he discovers a person held captive in the home of retired judge Hector Blake (Bonneville). Blake’s powerful connections leave Toby, his mum Liz (Macdonald), and Jay with little option but to attempt to expose his hidden dark side, turning the “I Came By” movement into a crusade against Blake’s murderous habits.
One of the most striking elements of I Came By is the way it wholly embraces its darkness, and makes its antagonist the focus rather than any one of its protagonists. As a result, I Came By is made up of three distinct acts, each one following a different character. The first follows Toby as he discovers Blake’s activities, the second follows Liz as she investigates him further, and the last follows Jay as he steps up to expose Blake to the world. It’s a film that’s relentless in its pursuit of realism within its darkest elements, and that results in more twists than one might expect.
The ever-changing nature of the narrative is a reflection of the way that Hector Blake as a character shapes the story. As Toby and Liz work against him, he’s forced to adapt his tactics, and so too does the story adapt to meet these changes. This makes him a particularly compelling villain, because it highlights how intelligent he is and exactly how he’s managed to operate undetected for so long. This makes I Came By feel distinctly plausible, grounding its story in the established behavior of serial killers and giving Blake believable but monstrous motives that fit the dark nature of the story.
Bonneville’s performance as Henry Blake is excellent, particularly as he plays against type as the calculating and deeply disturbed villain. George MacKay is truly excellent in his unexpectedly brief role as Toby, delivering powerfully raw emotion and perfectly establishing the depth of his character. Percelle Ascott also stands out for his competent performance as Jay, and Kelly Macdonald’s relentless pursuit of justice for her son forms the backbone of the entire film. I Came By tells a good story, but it’s made even better by the strength of its cast, with every supporting actor contributing to the realism and plausibility of its world.
The way that I Came By builds tension and pays it off with shocking twists is beautifully executed, giving it a real edge-of-the-seat quality that’s all too often missing from modern thrillers. There’s no adherence to established patterns or tropes, but instead I Came By follows a path of logic and competence that makes even the darkest elements of its story ring true. There’s an atmosphere of genuine fear built by the unhinged actions of Hector Blake, and the way in which characters are forced to trespass on his property creates an interesting juxtaposition between right and wrong, forcing an interesting perspective for the audience.
Fans of dark thrillers are sure to enjoy I Came By, but that isn’t to say that its message doesn’t get a little lost in its pursuit of an exciting narrative. There are themes of fighting the establishment and the ways in which minorities and the marginalized must go much further to challenge the status quo, and there’s also an examination of justice from unique perspectives and how the word can mean very different things to different people. However, none of this is overtly explored, and I Came By only really comes full circle with its final scene. Throughout its second act, it feels a little lost, and though that vaguely supports its story, it harms its overall pacing with regard to its themes.
I Came By tells an excellent story, but anyone hoping for something deeper is bound to be much less impressed. It’s bolstered by some excellent acting and moments of intense tension, but its ultimately harmed by its unwillingness to stick with a single character’s arc. Its inherent darkness also makes for an emotionally weighted film that may prove to be too heavy for some. I Came By is a uniquely interesting film on the surface, but somewhat disappointing in its approach to anything beyond its immediate story.
Summary: I Came By is a brilliant story for fans of crime thrillers, and it’s well-made with regard to its story and acting. However, the deeper elements of the movie are chaotically thrown together and lack the clarity that would make it truly great.
Highlight: I Came By‘s final scenes are filled with bittersweet triumph that pay off the story brilliantly.