Starring Jack Roth, Andrew Tiernan, Tim Bentinck, Sophie Colquhoun
Written by Joe Martin
Directed by Joe Martin
The age old debate of “Is this movie actually horror?” has been around for decades and will probably carry on for the rest of eternity. As Kristy Puchko recently tweeted, “Just because you think it’s also art doesn’t mean it’s not horror. It just means your definition of “horror” is too damn narrow.” Horror should be able to cast a wide net, just as films in the comedy and drama genres are able to. Where that goes awry is when a film simply doesn’t know its own identity, as is the case with Joe Martin’s feature-length directorial debut Us and Them.
The film follows Danny (Roth), a young man struggling in his lower class status and bristling with untapped rage at the 1% who use the downtrodden as footstools for their enterprises. Hatching a plan with his pals Tommy and Sean to break into the home of a wealthy banker, that scheme quickly becomes unraveled as thread after thread beings unraveling from the original tapestry. Determined but without a Plan B, Danny attempts to use the opportunity to drive home a message to the masses via social media to show that the 99% need to rise up against the 1% and create, as he says, some consistency. But as tensions arise within Danny, Tommy, and Sean, it’s questionable whether or not the night will end in triumphant rebellion or sadistic revenge.
Clocking in at a lean 83 minutes, Us and Them doesn’t waste any time getting straight to the point. Within the first few minutes, we’re already deep mix and ready to watch Danny take on the “man”, to see him wage war against the establishment. But as the film goes on, his mission begins to feel empty as his lack of a plan is mirrored by the misdirection of his anger towards a family that, for all intents and purposes, might be snobbish but haven’t been shown to hurt anyone personally.
This resulting conflict then raises questions about the greater fight that Danny has decided to undertake and champion. Who is the real villain of this story? Who is the hero? Who are we even supposed to care one bit about? While Danny spouts on and on about the injustices of the world, his tortuous methods are cruel and manipulative, undermining his own self-righteousness.
Us and Them practically screams its Ritchie, Tarantino, and de Palma influences. From split screen scenes to “hip” and “cool” licensed background music, Martin clearly wants to be seen in the same realm. The problem is that his script leaps around with reckless abandon in an attempt to overly explain the simple story instead of finding ways to break it into new and exciting territory.
Despite these issues, it must be said that the performances are fantastic across the board. Roth shines as Danny, torn by his own personal griefs that can easily draw sympathy, while Bentinck’s almost frothing, slobbering disdain splashes across the screen. Even with only a few lines each, both Colquhoun as Phillipa and Carolyn Backhouse, who plays her mother, Margaret, revel in their terror. And while I have my critiques about the violence Danny inflicts, I cannot deny that it is brutal and makes for a squeamish experience. Martin milks every drop of the family’s fear to great effect.
While Us and Them comes at a time when financial inequality is undeniably an issue, the film loses its purpose just as it fails to cement itself as a heist thriller, a horror home invasion, or even a black comedy. Its unwillingness to embrace any, or even all, of these genres makes it a lacking film experience.
Us and Them is anchored by stellar performances, Roth especially, but it can’t decide what it wants to be or whom it wants to champion.