I Came By, review: Hugh Bonneville makes a compelling bogeyman in this enjoyably unpredictable hokum

·2 min read
Hugh Bonneville in I Came By - Nick Wall/Netflix
Hugh Bonneville in I Came By - Nick Wall/Netflix

Hugh Bonneville, with his cagey prestige, is by no means the good guy he claims in I Came By, and the question of what he’s hiding in his cellar is the film’s premium hook. He plays a High Court Judge, Sir Hector Blake, who has recently, perhaps prematurely, retired. Unluckily for his privacy, his grand London home is rather easily impregnated – all an intruder needs is the wifi code to hack security.

A pair of socially conscious graffiti artists, Toby (George MacKay) and Jay (Percelle Ascott), have been marauding around town, tagging the homes of anyone in the ruling class they consider fair game. Blake is next in their sights – or at least, in Toby’s. Jay’s girlfriend (Varada Sethu) is expecting a baby, so the two belligerently part ways, and it’s Toby alone who sneaks in and smells a rat.

Hector has been publicly campaigning for the rights of refugees, but the film exposes this as the sham of all shams, as soon as we get a look through the secret door, behind his pottery rack. That takes us to the very edge of spoilers: enough said. Had Hitchcock filmed a trailer for this very Hitchcockian affair, he might have exposed the door, pointed at the peephole, and drawled, in that lugubrious voice of his, “Someone’s been up to no good back there.”

The film isn’t just interrogating rich white privilege in a blatant way, but needling away critically at concepts of wokeness, too. Toby, with his power-to-the-people mantras, is intentionally quite annoying, and doesn’t understand how it would be much worse for Jay (who’s black, more cautious, and trying to grow up) to get caught. Toby’s mum (warm, worried Kelly Macdonald) despairs of his arrested adolescence, however much Marxist rhetoric he laces it with.

As a thriller, this is structurally curious – it bounces between protagonists, with Bonneville, on supremely professional form, as the slippery yet constant bogeyman. Plausibility slides when we glean his motives, which have a lot to do with the overbearing father whose glowering portrait hangs above the mantelpiece, as well as a big question mark over the son’s sexuality.

Director/co-writer Babak Anvari made a startling debut with Under the Shadow (2015), but like his follow-up, Wounds (2019), this is a shakier pot-boiler – diverting, provocative in spots, a little head-scratchy in plot terms. The secret weapon is Ascott, an actor you itch to see cast in more films. Its “gritty” credentials here feel synthetic from the start, but that doesn’t nullify the film as enjoyably unpredictable hokum.

15 cert, 109 min. In cinemas from Friday August 19, on Netflix from the 31st