‘I Came By’ and Its Sadly Brilliant Depiction of Migrant Seeker Abuse
By Marcos Codas
My wife and I spend a lot of time together, as we both work from home. But we also spend our downtime together. One of our favorite pastimes is watching TV shows and films. She recently suggested we watch a Netflix original called I Came By. It was an indie film, and to be honest, I didn’t have much hope for it. In the end, I Came By was a surprisingly raw demonstration of the struggles of asylum seekers and how vulnerable they are. And I should know: I was an asylum seeker for 6 years.
The (My) Backstory
My family migrated to Canada in 2003 when I was 17 years old. As I was a minor back then, I can’t go into much detail as to why we left my home country. But I can tell you what happened after we arrived in Toronto.
In short: my whole life had been ripped out of my hands. I was in a foreign country, speaking a language I only had a basic understanding of, with no friends, limited family, and zero money. Zilch. Nada.
But that is widely known to people and has been widely documented in the media. It’s a story that is sadly shared by many. However, the day-to-day life of an asylum seeker has very large caveats.
The biggest one is fear: fear of being deported, fear of not having access to work, fear of not making it to the end of the month. And you analyze your every action to ensure you inflict the least amount of damage to your chances of being granted asylum. This is where I Came By truly shines.
I Came By tells the story of two friends who break into the homes of corrupt rich people to graffiti the words “I came by.” It’s meant to show powerful people that they are not immune from prosecution. But one would-be victim becomes the hunter when a judge catches one of the two friends, and an even darker secret is revealed.
Please, beware: spoilers for the film will be found below.
The retired judge, played masterfully by Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey, Notting Hill), is a dark figure in the film. Despite having a professional reputation for defending the rights of migrants and minorities, his past and present tell a very different story.
His father had taken in and fallen in love with a gay migrant. The judge subsequently hated his father, and upon his death, kidnapped his lover and kept him prisoner in a dungeon. Afterward, the judge continued to hunt gay migrants, killing them in search of “justice.”
My connection to the film, and why I think it’s so relevant, is in how the judge chooses his victims. They are migrants, usually without any family in the country, and most of all, afraid of messing up their chances of being granted asylum.
The judge knows they are likely to accept a quid-pro-quo arrangement in which the judge, in exchange for sex, promises them to expedite their asylum request. But the most important thing isn’t why they accept, but rather, why they are afraid to refuse.
You see, the judge has enough power to expedite the process, but what they’re really afraid of is that he may actually throw a wrench into the whole thing. Asylum seekers are programmed to fear authority because the slightest changes of mood in an immigration officer could mean the difference between getting a chance to start a new life and being deported back to untold horrors.
That is why I Came By is so important, and why it resonated with me so much: the film masterfully highlights just how much pressure asylum seekers are under to “impress” the people deciding their fates.
I remember clearly being so afraid of even complaining of bullying at school, lest my family and I be deported. My father took abuse from employers. So did my mom. We were always in fear of the police, not because we had done something wrong, but because we’d heard horror stories about people being deported due to bogus traffic infringements.
And I’d never seen that fear portrayed in a film until I watched I Came By. It’s not perfect, and it doesn’t apply to every asylum seeker experience, but it tries more than most, and it succeeds more than it fails.
It should be said that there’s more to the film than this nuanced but masterful stroke of political commentary. There’s a lot of mother-son relationship development, new parenthood, being born into a migrant family as a second-generation immigrant, and more.
It’s also just a very good heist film that will keep you guessing until the end. The acting and the directing aren’t always up to the lofty standards of its plot, but it never stumbles enough to ruin the experience.
All this to say: even if you’ve not had the unfortunate distinction of being an asylum seeker, you’ll also likely enjoy the movie for myriad reasons. It currently sits at a 6.1 rating on IMDb, and it’s certified fresh at Rotten Tomatoes, with a score of 70%. Oddly, however, it has an audience score of only 46%.
In the end, I came away surprised. It’s not very often that an independent film tries to tackle such delicate and rarely spoken-of issues. But despite some imperfections in the writing, the direction, and the performances, I Came By delivers a thrilling experience that is definitely worth a watch.
If you’ve been an asylum seeker at any point in your life, you may see your struggles portrayed on film for the first time. And that alone is worth the price of admission. 🩸
Marcos is a Paraguayan-Canadian multimedia producer, writer, filmmaker, and game developer. He is the former assistant editor at Dread Central and has been an entertainment journalist for over 15 years. He is an unashamed fan of found footage films, handheld gaming, and restoring old vehicles, which he does in his spare time.
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