Review: I Came By

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One would have thought successfully disassociating Hugh Bonneville from the role of Paddington’s dad and pinning him as serial killer (Hector Blake) would be near impossible. Babak Anvari’s I Came By confidently takes on this task and does not fail in creating a persuasively chilling, squash-playing, neckerchief-wearing figure of inhumanity.

Anvari cleverly denies his thriller a singular point of view. Toby, (George McKay), ensures our Robin Hood-esque hero’s tenure as protagonist is short lived, with his unfinished investigation of Hector Blake (Hugh Bonneville) falling successively into the hands of his mother Liz (Kelly Macdonald) and old partner-in-crime, Jameel ‘Jay’ (Percelle Ascott). The film’s title comes from the partners’ old vocation of breaking into and tagging the homes of the rich with the words ‘I Came By’, presumably as a threat of their own vulnerability. Toby falls short of a completely likeable hero, perhaps deliberately: he is committed to addressing social inequality, but he won’t tidy the kitchen, and his gung-ho eagerness is often hampered by misjudgement.

The revelation complicates Hector’s base character as a philanthropic judge

The film equips viewers with an expected course of events by establishing numerous tropes yet successfully dispels these with every turn. The family drama surrounding the soon-to-be parents Jay and Naserine ‘Naz’ (Varada Sethu) creates a palatable parallel storyline which tempers our expectations of real harrowing horror, heightening the vice of Hector’s acts. Where we seem to expect the appearance of a rescue scene the film replaces it with a far more dark scenario, perhaps inciting and reflecting a view of common yet discreet immorality within the lives of high-profile figures. The film need not show the minutiae of Hector’s killings as it seems to imply that people of his milieu do not succumb to the same fate as those of lower stature.

Hector’s monologic story of the young Farsi helper of his childhood begins to unravel the ethnically charged, systematic angle to his murders, giving shape to his penchant for kidnapping. This revelation complicates Hector’s base character as a philanthropic judge publicly revered for taking on inquests on behalf of refugees, yet privately exploits his stature in abominable ways. In his leisurely faux-confiding speech to new victim Omid (Yazdan Qafouri), the slow unspooling of these fatal hints raises an alert of his true nature, pre-empting the rush of the escape scene.

Straying from typical conventions of the horror film, Anvari cleverly manipulates traditional temporal models, with what is set up to be a long-term feud between a youthful insurgent and a highbrow judge being abruptly cut short. As though to say ‘Come now, be realistic’, the possibility of Toby’s prevailing is quashed in a frame of his ashes being flushed down the toilet. Omid miraculously escapes only to be recaptured, exiting the film in a body bag. As with the others, his murder is not explicitly shown but abridged through short clips. Anvari refrains from theatrics and gory visuals, instead opting for synoptic montages of murder weapons being disposed of and driver’s licences being incinerated to allow the audience to imaginatively supply the rest. Brief, punchy cinematography relates each kill succinctly, in keeping with Hector’s methodical, dispassionate executions.

Hector’s invulnerability to the justice system supplements the film’s bleakness. The repeat killings gradually inure us to the unlikelihood of his comeuppance without once cushioning their shock factor or horror, whilst also maintaining suspense as Toby’s absence lengthens. Bonneville’s emotional detachment as killer is compelling, espousing brutality in his passivity. Maintaining the aristocratic mien distinctive to his other roles, he successfully refashions this into a demeanour appropriate of a killer; at once the well-dressed, bumbling, lovable Henry Brown in Paddington and the convincingly imperious and formidable Hector Blake of I Came By.

The final scene of Hector’s graffitied wall is ostensibly one of triumph. It is the pragmatic, ex-revolutionary Jay who fulfils the figure of heroism, executing his plan with a slick anonymity that Toby had failed at. DS Ella Lloyd’s (Franc Ashman) victorious smile is a satisfying moment of justice, despite ignoring the prior failures of the police force.

A gripping watch for the moral questions it raises

I Came By is a gripping watch for the moral questions it raises in addition to its calculated cinematography. Constant turns and the blasé visual treatment of the murders ensures open-mouthed disbelief and a lasting psychological response. Macdonald’s compelling performance as a mother doubly crushed by the pain of bereavement and a failure to avenge her son, as well as Jay’s intense emotional scarring allow for the film’s real poignancy. At times cinematic decisions seem to contradict the tone, such as the off-key ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’ credits scene. Whilst clumsy grappling with certain themes may impede the film’s full potential, it is still worth a watch for its numerous other successes.

Image: Tingey Injury Law Firm via Unsplash

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