'Us and Them': Film Review | SXSW 2017

Courtesy of SXSW Film Festival/Alex Foster
Malarkey in the U.K.

Jack Roth ('Rogue One') stars in this cheekily violent home invasion movie from writer-director Joe Martin ('Keep Quiet').

In Us and Them, three blue-collar Brits torment a family of one-percenters in order to exact some willful class revenge and possibly, a bit of pocket change. It’s a decent concept for any sort of movie – a thriller, a horror flick, a comedy – but the problem here is that writer-director Joe Martin never quite decides which one he wants to make.

The result is part Tarantino and Guy Richie, part Michael Haneke and A Clockwork Orange, with a bit of Alan Clarke tossed into the mix. That makes for a lot to reckon with in such a short running time (the film clocks in at 83 minutes), and the final product ultimately feels innocuous. With a premiere in SXSW’s Narrative Spotlight section, the film could use its genre elements — not to mention star Jack Roth (son of Tim) — to find traction on VOD outlets.

Jumping around in time à la Reservoir Dogs, with a funk-heavy soundtrack and lots of cheeky intertitles to denote each sequence, Us and Them can often feel like it was manufactured by a movie algorithm sometime in the late 1990s, even if its poor vs. ultra-rich scenario is meant to evoke the social woes of present-day England. 

Roth plays Danny, a fiery 20-something who hatches a plan with pub buddies Tommy (Andrew Tiernan) and Sean (Daniel Kendrick) to invade the home of the posh Phillipa (Sophie Colquhoun), whom he sees as an embodiment of the class-based gentrification that’s ruining both his neighborhood and his country. His idea is to break inside the mansion, scare the bejesus out of her family, record it all on video and then release his manifesto to the public, in the hopes of starting some sort of revolution.

Things of course don’t go according to plan, with the film flashing back and forth to reveal the different ways in which Danny’s scheme will backfire — whether it’s his friends’ greedy intentions, a gun that’s not a real gun or the many verbal tiffs he has with Philippa’s banker dad, Conrad (Tim Bentinck). Clearly in over his head from the start and unsure of the proper course of action, Danny is backed into a corner and then some, with the resulting mayhem turning increasingly violent and humorless.

As much as the economic divide remains a serious issue in the U.K. (Brexit, anyone?), the subject is tackled in some rather odd ways in Us and Them, which renders its band of average Joes so idiotic and unlikable at times, you actually wind up rooting for the rich guys. Even if the film can be seen as pure satire, the idea of turning class resentment into a sick prank that ends badly for everyone involved seems like a facile take on a highly complex problem, especially when none of the characters come across as even mildly redeemable.

To his credit, Martin showcases a punchy style that’s abetted by excellent camerawork from Stefan Mitchell, not to mention a steady mix of funk, punk and other tracks that keep the rhythm alive. In one of his first leading roles, Roth exudes some of the raw energy and twisted humor of his father’s earlier movies (Clarke’s Made in Britain comes to mind), while the rest of the cast is solid — all the way down to the actor who plays several scenes with the word “wanker” written across his forehead.

Production company: Into the Woods
Cast: Jack Roth, Tim Bentinck, Andrew Tiernan, Daniel Kendrick, Sophie Colquhoun
Director, screenwriters: Joe Martin
Producer: Danielle Clark
Executive producers: Jeremy Sokel, Bob Palmer, David Osborn Cook, Kirsty Bell
Director of photography: Stefan Mitchell
Production designer: Niina Topp
Costume designer: Alison McLaughlin
Editor: Joe Martin
Composer: Vanesa Lorena Tate
Casting director: Shakyra Dowling

Venue: South by Southwest (Narrative Spotlight)
Sales: Parkland Pictures

83 minutes

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