It’s clear that writer/ director Joe Martin’s Us and Them could be interpreted as a manifestation of Brexit/ Trump diffidence and economic inequality, donned in the garb of a home invasion thriller. Sadly though, Martin mishandles the drama and analogies in this slipshod big screen cine-manifesto that’s neither edifying, terrifying or entertaining.
The surface story is straightforward: a wealthy family become the target of subjugated Brit delinquents who invade their home and use the attack to make a political statement, while robbing the place blind in the process. The script breaks this down into chapters while transcending time and just about hits its beats to evade brain raking tedium. The production/ execution is passé and inept, smacking more of Michael Winner on a bad day than the films it tries to emulate, but Us and Them’s politics are very contemporary.
Martin melds Funny Games and Fargo with the eye of an ersatz Tarantino, riffing on dialogue rhythms and camera angles to make it feel more like a work which emerged in the mid-90s. A scene seeing the camera circling a table of men in a pub, discussing an 80s porn drought, recalls the opening of Reservoir Dogs, while classical tracks cough up A Clockwork Orange connotations
Grating punk music soils the backdrop, stitching awkwardly with the soaring classical, yet performances are decent. Jack Roth channels his father (given the direction) aptly while conveying complex anxiety as antagonist Danny. The characters “seek to expose the wealthy to the same threats they experience, to bring about change” suggesting substance beneath the surface story, yet this isn’t efficiently extrapolated to augment the script. Themes and ideals should have been delicately woven and reflected in the actions of the characters instead of being barked out by them.
None of the characters are likeable so there is no one to really root for. Not that this is cause to see them unflappably clubbed as would commonly occur to galling support players in horror films. Us and Them thankfully resists going down the Ruggero Deodata/ Meir Zarchi home invasion road and has thought-provoking political substance at its core. Unfortunately, Martin’s film is more of an angry springboard for barking morals in the guise of a Brit indie crime flick, lacking character, tact, deliberation and heart.