British-Iranian filmmaker Babak Anvari burst onto the scene in 2016 with his debut feature film Under The Shadow, a subtle, politically astute supernatural chiller that won the writer-director a BAFTA for Outstanding Debut. I Came By, his third film, has few of the subtleties of that calling card, but hints of that early promise are occasionally scattered throughout.
It’s something of a genre-hopper. The film begins as a fairly crass approximation of urban youth culture: a couple of hoodies engaging in high-risk civil disobedience; tech-savvy, politically radical vandals sticking a middle finger up to the establishment by breaking into expensive homes and leaving a signature tag. Toby (George MacKay) is the rebellious Robin Hood type — a clumsy early scene shows him literally stealing from the rich to give to the poor — while his more sensible-minded partner-in-crime, Jay (Percelle Ascott), is in the family way, and looking to get out of the game.
Hugh Bonneville is straightforwardly excellent on villain duties.
Then, when Toby gets swept up into something more than he bargained for, the film switches into a kind of missing-person police procedural — before finally settling on a house-of-horrors psychological thriller. The shake-up between styles and abrupt change in character perspectives (there are essentially three leads, who take it in turns for each act) might feel uneven, but it weirdly works, keeping proceedings surprising and engaging just when interest threatens to sag.
Most interesting of all is the man behind that horror, Sir Hector Blake, played in a gloriously against-type role by Hugh Bonneville. Weaponising the plummy upper-class accent that has delighted Downton fans for years, Bonneville is straightforwardly excellent on villain duties. Playing a supposedly saintly man of the law with some dark secrets in his basement, he maintains a facade of public-school politeness, while allowing flashes of truly unhinged histrionics. The lessons about establishment figures with colonial pasts are, again, clumsily made, but Bonneville’s well-pitched performance keeps it on track.
There are some strange choices elsewhere. The camera lingers on characters watching Rick And Morty and The Great British Bake Off far longer than it needs to, making us wonder if there is some deeper meaning to be inferred from Paul Hollywood’s baking tips. The cinematography is oddly flat. George MacKay’s hair changes colour at least once, for unknown reasons. But if it feels a bit messy, the jumble of ideas coalesces into a moderately satisfying final meal, a scathing broadside of the British class system, wrapped into a multi-genre mash-up.