Us and Them is about as timely and politically relevant as any film in recent memory. Though not a horror film per se, this British crime thriller and satire builds its story around the popular home invasion subgenre. With the past housing mortgage crisis, fears of real estate bubbles, and rising housing costs, the home invasion subgenre is arguably one of the better vehicles for exporting fear and anger over the widening class divide. Featuring an up-and-coming star in Jack Roth, Us and Them has earned positive buzz in some circles.
Danny, a working-class youth in England, is frustrated with the growing growing gap between the ‘have’s” and “have-not’s” he sees all around him. After a chance encounter with the privileged Phillipa, Danny devises a plan with his mates to break into her parent’s mansion, hold her family hostage, and record their ordeal online. While Danny has grand ambitions of starting a class revolt, his friends may have much simpler ideas. Simmering tensions and lack of experience slowly boil over. As Danny begins to lose control, his plans threaten to result in deadly consequences.
Whip-smart Dialogue and Political Commentary
“It’s not a class war if there aren’t casualties on both sides.”
Written and directed by Joe Martin, Us and Them smartly encapsulates the frustrations of the disillusioned working class with its sharp dialogue and early spot-on satire. Fans of 90’s cinema will find lots to appreciate with the quick banter between Danny and his mates or the tense back-and-fourths Danny has with Phillipa’s banker father, Conrad. With some clever editing during these verbal exchanges, Us and Them also casts a light on the stereotypes that the ‘one-percent’ and working class hold of one another. Martin clearly has lofty ambitions of showing how these toxic attitudes fuel much of the class war.
A Beautifully Filmed But Choppy Narrative
Us and Them is a beautifully shot film. Cinematographer Stefan Mitchell really captures the disparity between the classes with his camera work. Shots of Conrad’s posh mansion are bright, lush, and emphasize the expansiveness of the living quarters. Comparatively, Danny’s working class pubs and apartments are more tightly filmed with grey-hued lighting. For a smaller, independent film, the cinematography impressed throughout Us and Them.
Jack Roth, Tim Roth’s son, isn’t the only thing Martin borrowed from the 1990’s. His narrative flips back and forth in time, not unlike Pulp Fiction or Reservoir Dogs. It was an innovative approach 20 years ago, but plays out as a little tired in Us and Them. These quick snippets fill in some blanks for the audience, providing insights into plot developments, but ultimately disrupt the story’s pacing and undermine its tension. It’s a technique that becomes more of a hindrance to Us and Them as it progresses.
Tonal Shifts and Unsympathetic Characters
Perhaps the biggest hurdle Us and Them has to jump is its tonal shifts and inconsistent integration of satire, crime, and horror elements. In the film’s opening moments, Martin masterfully crafts a fun, tense exchange between Danny and Conrad, which promises a dark, tongue-in-cheek satire. As Us and Them moves forward, however, the film’s playful tone dissipates and things become a little more mean-spirited. Martin has a little more trouble bringing in the horror elements in the later stages. Non-horror fans will be put off by the blood and violence, while horror fans are likely to be underwhelmed.
Non-horror fans will be put off by the blood and violence, while horror fans are likely to be underwhelmed.
Things also aren’t helped by the generally unsympathetic nature of the characters. Aside from Danny and Conrad, the supporting cast fails to register or rise above simple caricatures. While Martin’s screenplay avoids vilifying Conrad, actor Tim Bentinck isn’t given much to allow him to connect with viewers. Roth delivers an outstanding performance as the angry Danny, infusing his character with a manic and nervous energy. Much of his dialogue sounds like it was lifted from an introductory sociology textbook, but Roth capably makes it work.
Us and Them Offers Mixed Results
In spite of the potential offered by its premise and opening moments, Us and Them delivers mixed results that may struggle to connect with larger audiences. Director Martin never fully embraces its horror elements and struggles with blending the increasing violence with his earlier satirical focus. The jumping timeline also disrupts the pacing, often slowing Us and Them to a grind when it should be accelerating forward. Jack Roth impresses and its beautifully filmed, but Us and Them is too mixed to fully recommend.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE B-