It’s easy to understand why an actor like Hugh Bonneville would want to stretch himself.
Mention Hugh Bonneville’s name and you tend to think of his characters in ‘Downton Abbey,’ ‘W19’ or ‘Paddington’.
You tend to think of him as exemplifying an upper class or upper middle class English decency.
What his name doesn’t trigger is notions of him playing an upper crust Norman Bates.
But that is what Bonneville and writer director Babak Anvari try to pull off ’10 Rillington Place’ style in the Netflix film ‘I Came By’.
George Mackay also stars as Toby Nealey, a London graffiti artist who likes to break into rich people’s homes in the dead of night and spray paint: “I Came By” on their walls.
His accomplice is Percelle Ascott’s Jay Agassi, an old friend from a troubled background who has found love with Varada Sethu’s Naz Raheem.
Toby lives with his mum, Kelly Macdonald’s Lizzie Nealey, a psychotherapist but there is friction between them.
Lizzie, whose husband passed away, wishes Toby would do something with his life and often tackles him about it.
Her son sulks and snarls at her like Harry Enfield’s Kevin the Teenager and nicks her remote control which she can never find when settling down on the sofa to watch ‘The Great British Bake-Off’.
Bonneville’s ex judge Sir Hector Blake falls into Toby’s radar who decides to break into his house.
Jay, though, refuses to join Toby because Naz is pregnant and he doesn’t want to risk ending up behind bars from breaking and entering.
The friends fall out over Toby’s dismissive response to Jay and Naz’s life changing news.
So Toby proceeds on his own with his spray painting operation in the former judge’s home.
However as he explores the house, he discovers a chilling secret about Hector which will put his life and the lives of his nearest and dearest at risk.
Iranian born Babak Anvari created quite a stir in 2016 as a writer director of the Tehran set psychological horror film ‘Under the Shadows’ – a very smart tale of a mother and young daughter terrorised by evil spirits during the Iraqi bombardment of the city in the 1980s.
His 2019 psychological horror movie ‘Wounds’ with Armie Hammer, Dakota Johnson and Zazie Beetz was not so enthusiastically received after it was distributed on Hulu and Netflix.
You would hope, though, that having crafted at least one effective psychological horror tale, Anvari would be equipped to do so again.
‘I Came By,’ though, is spectacularly poor – failing on many different scores.
Neither thrilling not convincing, it is poorly written and poorly cast.
Disappointingly for Bonneville, he seems hopelessly out of his depth in the role of a pillar of the British liberal establishment who is really a psycho.
While the concept of the character is good, he has neither the quality script nor the acting armoury to pull it off.
And if this is bad enough, consider the treatment of Mackay and Macdonald.
Both have proven their range in past projects.
However their skills are just wasted in one note roles – a sulky Robin Hood style graffiti artist and worried mum.
The casual way Anvari treats their characters ensures ‘I Came By’ is underwhelming and dull.
Anvari seems to be paying his dues to Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho,’ while Bonneville is clearly hoping to have the same impact that Richard Attenborough had playing the real serial killer John Christie in Richard Fleischer’s 1971 thriller ’10 Rillington Place’.
However with its “yoof culture” graffiti artists in hoodies tackling Establishment figures and its awkward shoehorning in of an asylum seekers storyline, Anvari’s film is just a bit Scooby Do as successive characters try and fail to expose Hector’s wrongdoing.
The deficiencies in the script ensure Ascott and Sethu also don’t quite have the breakthrough roles that they should.
Franc Ashman is handed a classic good cop swimming in a sea of incompetence role as DS Ella Lloyd, while Antonio Aakeel’s asylum seeker Faisal is subjected to a gauche attempt by Bonneville’s character to explain how he became a bad egg.
If ‘I Came By’ proves anything, it is that Hugh Bonneville is good at curtain twitching.
He conveys “something to hide” vibes by peeping slyly round front doors or peeking shiftily through blinds.
But that’s about it.
‘I Came By’ is handsomely shot but it is a psycho thriller devoid of thrills.
It’s a forgettably messy tale.
And it’s probably for the best of all involved that it is easily forgotten.
(‘I Came By’ was released for streaming on Netflix on August 31, 2022)