Directed by: Babak Anvari
Premise: A graffiti artist (George MacKay) breaks into the houses of wealthy homeowners and spray paints their walls. He breaks into the house of a prestigious judge (Hugh Bonneville) and makes a terrible discovery.
What Works: I Came By is a thriller with a very interesting narrative structure. The movie is about the secret that an otherwise respectable man has hidden in his house and the attempts of several people to expose him to the world. The story plays out in three acts with each portion of the movie unfolding from the point of view of a different character. The point of view characters are established early on so the film is able to transition smoothly between their stories without starting over each time but the narrative structure disrupts the viewer’s complacency. Most stories introduce the protagonist in the opening and follow that character through to the end. I Came By is not so much about a single character but about whether the villain’s secret will be revealed and so pivoting the point of view heightens the movie’s unpredictability. There is no guarantee that anyone will succeed which raises the stakes. The filmmakers do an effective job establishing the characters. The movie focuses on the triangular relationships between the graffiti artist played by George MacKay, his mother played by Kelly Macdonald, and his friend and fellow graffiti artist played by Percelle Ascott. Each of these central characters are given a life of their own which adds some humanity to the movie. The characterization also adds to the themes of the movie which are rooted in class differences and the increasing diversity of British society. The story serves as a microcosm, dramatizing the way the establishment preys on immigrants and lower economic classes, and it does this without being didactic or ostentatious. I Came By is also remarkably brutal but without being excessively violent. The tone of the story and the surprises in the narrative give the picture a viciousness that makes it unsettling.
What Doesn’t: As a consequence of the film’s novel narrative structure, the climax of I Came By does not have a major emotional impact. The finale works well enough and I Came By has a satisfying ending but the film lacks the sense of a long-waged conflict coming to a close or that something meaningful has been saved or affirmed. That emotional restraint suits the movie and in fact might be the point but the conclusion is the film’s weakest aspect.
Disc extras: On Netflix.
Bottom Line: I Came By is a bold thriller. The movie’s unusual narrative structure makes it an unpredictable story and I Came By entertains social and political implications in a way that is subversive.
Episode: #918 (September 18, 2022)