Netflix’s potboiler thriller I Came By is one of those movies with a great point to make but lacks the story to bring it home. The point that the movie is trying to make is that powerful and wealthy white middle-aged men can get away with anything — including multiple murders — and while that may be true (is true), the movie itself doesn’t have much to offer beyond that theme and a hell of a delicious performance from Downton Abbey’s Hugh Bonneville.
1917’s George MacKay — who looks like a young, handsome Willem Dafoe — plays Toby, an aimless graffiti artist who gets his kicks out of breaking into the homes of wealthy people and tagging their walls with, “I Came By.” Do not get too attached to Toby, because after Toby and his best friend Jay (Percelle Ascott) break up their tagging partnership, Toby goes alone into the home of a retired judge, Hector Blake (Bonneville). While in the home, Toby discovers that Blake is keeping someone in a hidden basement room. Before Toby can alert anyone, he disappears.
The point of view then switches to Toby’s mother, Lizzie (Kelly Macdonald), who learns enough about her son’s disappearance to become suspicious of Blake. Suspicion, however, doesn’t get one very far when the suspect is a powerful retired judge. Lizzie is forced to do her own investigating until, alas, the point of view shifts again to a third character who has to bring down Blake and discover what happened to Toby.
The shifting point of view provides an interesting wrinkle to the thriller, but it doesn’t do much to lessen the predictability. The film, which comes from director Babak Anvari (who co-wrote it with Namsi Khan), also does little to give Bonneville a motivation for his serial killing other than a vague racist backstory involving his father and a migrant worker. Granted, the motivation is not the point — Blake’s ability to elude authorities is — but the story doesn’t lend itself to a lot of tension. It feels almost like a paint-by-numbers subversion: A Zig so obvious that Zag doesn’t even bother to disguise it.
It doesn’t help, either, that the characters are thinly drawn (and a colossal waste of both MacKay and Macdonald, who is desperately missed in the States), and make only the dumbest decisions in order to maintain the plot. The film looks like it came off the Netflix assembly line — it looks so much like a Harlan Coben Netflix series that I had to double-check to make sure he wasn’t involved. It does, however, have a delightfully sinister turn from Bonneville and some decent social commentary, so it’s not a complete loss, but there’s little else here to separate it from the rest of the Netflix chaff.