Directed by Babak Anvari — Screenplay by Babak Anvari & Namsi Khan.
The British-Iranian filmmaker Babak Anvari burst onto the scene with his wildly impressive feature-length directorial debut, Under The Shadow, a terrific but underseen psychological horror film that was selected as the British entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 89th Academy Awards. Widely praised, it was a good springboard for Anvari, but his follow-up film, Wounds starring Armie Hammer, represented “a disappointingly severe sophomore slump” for Anvari. When his third effort, I Came By, which, like his previous two efforts, was released on Netflix in my region, it was without much fanfare. To me, it almost felt like it was being hidden, which concerned me. In my review of Wounds, I noted how I really wanted “to see [Babak Anvari] make a triumphant return with a film that is as brilliant and promising as I thought [Under The Shadow] was.” So, did I get what I want? Eh, not really. It’s not a recommendation, but, admittedly, it is better than Wounds.
The film opens with one of, supposedly, many break-ins that this team of so-called renegade graffiti vandals have carried out. They mark their accomplishment by spray-painting “I CAME BY” on the wall of the given target’s home. They — Jameel (played by Percelle Ascott) and Toby (played by George MacKay) — want to fight back against the system, out wrongdoers, and all that, but right as they are to plan their next mission, Jameel’s girlfriend becomes pregnant, so Jameel wants to leave the criminal side-job in his past. Toby, who is too high on his own achievements, dismisses Jameel’s decision and derides him for wanting a child. Therefore, Toby, an early-twenties man — who lives with his concerned mother (played by Kelly Macdonald) — with the mood-swings of a teenager, breaks into their latest target’s home on his own. But inside he finds out that his target (played by Hugh Bonneville) has even darker secrets than he suspected.
I was very curious about what exactly this film would be when I heard the first sound effect in the film. I Came By drops all evidence of pretense that bogged down Wounds from the get go. This one opens not with a quote but with the sound of graffiti, as the two aforementioned vandals have broken in to a home and are spray painting a wall. The music is reminiscent of techno and noticeably upbeat. If Wounds went for Heart of Darkness (with the opening quote), then this opening felt closer to the video game WATCH_DOGS 2 (which isn’t to say that the movie is like the game, but more so to indicate the vibe the opening of this film gave when compared to the ambitious and weighty opening quote from Wounds).
Whereas his previous two films were horror films, this third effort is more of a crime-thriller. And it sets itself up as this Robin Hood-esque film, with an early scene involving George MacKay’s character literally taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor, even after having acknowledged that this act is being captured by surveillance cameras. I wonder if this scene was a late addition to make his character feel even a little bit likable, since several of his scenes paint him in a less than flattering light.
For a while, I liked what the film was giving me, and it certainly had a lot going for it with a relatively strong cast in Bonneville, Macdonald, and MacKay, but I was underwhelmed by the way the film was executed. The film is brought down by several cheap jump-scares with little-to-no build up, and attempts to tease what’s going to happen next. It feels like the film is trying to tease a fresh twist (there are scenes where Anvari insists on not showing us what’s going on, e.g. when MacKay’s character looks through a peephole), but what it brings to the party are elements that were clearly inspired by Don’t Breathe and Psycho. This Psycho element, 40 minutes into the film, actually works quite well for the film, as it is a good surprise, but the film doesn’t have any additional tricks up its sleeves, and the Don’t Breathe elements suffer when compared to what they’re imitating. This film never comes close to reaching the highs of those thrillers (though, admittedly, I do think it is better than Don’t Breathe 2). The remaining film honestly just felt predictable and repetitive to me.
As someone who really wants Babak Anvari to have a return to form, it pains me to say that I Came By is a bit of a letdown. Although it is better than his previous film, Wounds, this really isn’t a film that I can recommend. Sure, it has some notable British stars, but the story is predictable, underwhelming, at times poorly executed, and ultimately the film is quite forgettable. It’ll make you think of other better films, and you should probably just watch those instead. I really wanted to like this one, but, I guess, I’m going to have to hold out hope that Anvari can make a great comeback with his next film.
5 out of 10
– Review Written By Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.