The state of the nation is explored in British Netflix Original I Came By, and (spoilers) it turns out it’s in a terrible state. This is a horror/thriller from Under The Shadow director Babak Anvari and it sees disaffected graffiti writer Toby (George MacKay) discover something incredibly disturbing in a house he has broken into belonging to a wealthy and highly respected former judge played by Hugh Bonneville.
Power corrupts. Or rather power allows the already corrupt to get away with murder – in this case literally.
But the ending to I Came By comes with a twist and it’s an important one for the future of these characters, while carrying a message for us all today. Let’s break it down.
Who is Hector Blake?
He’s a judge who has recently stood down who is known as ‘St. Blake’ for all the pro bono work he has done particularly trying to help asylum seekers. He is the public face of fairness and equality for all. Unfortunately he’s also a total psychopath.
We know Blake has kept at least one young man hostage in his custom basement. When Toby breaks into Blake’s house he sees the guy beaten and half naked, and returns with the hope of rescuing him. I Came By looks like it’s going to be a movie about angry young man Toby, whose relationship with his mother is fractious, and who has absolutely lost faith in a world he sees as corrupt, taking on Blake, rescuing his captive and proving to the world that he is worth something.
But this isn’t that movie. In the film’s first big twist, Toby slips and is clonked on the head with a cricket bat by Blake.
Later we get a glimpse of a possible motivation for why Blake is the way he is – or at least where his murderous urges first arose. Blake had a terrible father with whom he had no positive relationship. Blake’s colonialist father (Toby references this earlier in the movie) hired a young Parsi man called Ravi as a ‘helper’ who he eventually took under his wing and then into his bed, usurping his wife and son, who he abandoned, eventually leading to his mother’s suicide – Blake was the first to find his dead mum.
Blake tells his latest victim, an Iranian man named Omid (Yazdan Qafouri), that he later beat Ravi to death kicking off his murderous obsession.
Why asylum seekers?
Possibly because he’s a massive racist. Possibly because of his memories of Ravi and his terrible racist father. But also likely because he’s an opportunist. Known as an advocate for asylum seekers he has access to these young men, can ask questions to find out how much their disappearance will be noticed, and for example, in the instance of Omid who he drugs, but manages to escape, he can manipulate him with threats to expedite or hold up his application for asylum. Omid wont go to the police because of his fear of how that will affect his application. In this way the very people who are supposed to be protecting him are the ones putting him at risk, and in this case actually murdering him. As a detail in a thriller it’s neat. As the reality we are currently living it’s incredibly troubling.
How many people has Blake killed?
It’s not clear if he’s had victims before the man that Toby finds, but it would appear that Blake’s MO is to capture and keep a prisoner to torture (and god knows what else, but there are very clear sexual undertones here – Bonneville playing against type is leeringly creepy, softly spoken and proper in a way that makes your skin crawl). When he realizes Toby is on to him, and eventually captures him, Blake has no choice but to destroy the evidence. He kills both men and cleans the dungeon room so when the police come at the behest of Toby’s mum Liz (Kelly MacDonald – heartbreaking) the place is clean. Even though PC Hunter (Marilyn Nnadebe) is incredibly suspicious of Blake and notices the peephole goes the wrong way they can’t charge Blake due to his connections. He even takes a sly dig, closing the door for a second and whispering ‘is that all you’ve got? I thought you were one of the clever ones’ to taunt her.
Later Blake attempts to make Omid his replacement prisoner. On his first attempt Omid escapes and is helped by Liz. But he’s lured back by threats from Blake. As with her son, when Liz attempts to help, Blake kills both her and Omid.
So that takes us to four during the movie’s run time, plus Ravi makes five. Five murders and zero repercussions.
Jay and a glimmer of hope
I Came By is bleak and does not stick to the standard rules of the thriller. Our protagonist is killed in the first half of the movie (we don’t know this for sure until a bit later), his body is cremated and flushed down the toilet. His mother can’t get justice despite mounting evidence that Blake is the one who has (or at least knows the whereabouts of) her son. And when she goes to Blake’s house herself (which Blake has actually set her up to do), she is murdered along with Omid. He’s going to keep getting away with it. This is how the world is set up, says the movie. The powerful can do anything, the weak, the vulnerable, the marginalised, the poor – they are fucked.
But that’s not the end. Jay (Percelle Ascott), best friend to Toby decides he has to do something. He didn’t accompany his friend when Toby first told him about Blake’s basement because Jay’s girlfriend was pregnant. He spent time in prison before and as a Black man is acutely aware of how the police will view him. His commitment has to be to his family. But after subtly tipping Liz off by popping the letter to Blake he has stolen from his property into Toby’s belongings, he feels the weight of her disappearance. She might not be blood but she was as close as family to Jay.
With his basement shenanigans compromised, Blake has packed up and moved house, leaving no obvious evidence pointing to what happened to Liz. But with help from his (now estranged) girlfriend Naz (Varada Sethu), Jay discovers Blake is attending a celebration and follows him home to his new place. Here he find another torture room with a new prisoner.
Blake apprehends Jay but this time Jay is able to overpower him, beating him up and leaving him tied up for the police to find. His last victim is alive, the evidence is overwhelming and Blake will finally go down.
Jay doesn’t wait for the police, we get the sense that even despite everything he could end up getting charged, but he does leave a final tribute to Toby and Liz and a warning to other powerful predators: I Came By painted in big letters on the wall.
Terrible people with good connections will strive and thrive. But sometimes a brave individual can make a difference. Never stop trying, the movie says, no matter how bleak things get.
I Came By is available to stream on Netflix now.