The class divide grows wider every day, but while most people are content to watch it and grumble in disgust one young man has had enough. Danny (Jack Roth) has a plan to strike fear into the heart of the elites and hopefully ignite a national movement against the 1%. Unfortunately for Danny, his poorly thought out plan makes the folks behind Occupy Wall Street look like organizational masterminds.
Along with two of his mates, Tommy (Andrew Tiernan) and Sean (Daniel Kendrick), he targets a young woman of rarefied upbringing whose parents represent all that Danny sees wrong with the world. The trio force their way into Phillipa’s (Sophie Colquhoun) home, tie up her and her parents, and set about terrifying them on camera. The plan is to make them squirm and then broadcast it to the world as a both message and a motivation. Things quickly spiral out of control though as participants on both sides refuse to play by the rules.
Writer/director Joe Martin’s feature debut, Us and Them, comes a year after his documentary, Keep Quiet, but they share a thematic thread in their look at the competing categories people put themselves and other into. The doc follows a far-right politician who only stops demonizing his Jewish countrymen when he discovers that he himself is Jewish. The characters in Us and Them are every bit as angry and insulting towards those on the other “side” – the rich look down on the poor, the poor look up with hate in their eyes towards the rich – but there’s no chance here that any of them will wake up to discover they’re actually what they so visibly despise.
Even so, that’s almost the crux of Martin’s film as the characters make it clear that none of them are all that innocent and endearing of our sympathy. Leave it to human nature to get in the way of morality. Like 2015’s Traders, another UK thriller but one that hit pre-Brexit, it focuses on the plight of the lower/middle class as a starting point to the realization that money is neither the key to happiness nor the root of all evil and that pricks come with all different sized bank accounts. If anything the film leans a bit more heavily on Danny and his friends marking them as the true villains of the piece, and while that may be intentional it seems at odds with how we’re meant to look at Danny’s plight and the film’s themes.
There’s a desperation to Danny’s plan to expose the wealthy to the same threats and stresses that the poor experience, and while much of the film is played for dark laughs Roth sells the man’s feeling that he’s at the end of his rope. We believe his intentions but quickly doubt his ability to keep himself and the others under control.
Martin keeps the film moving both through the natural energy of its narrative as well as through imagined bits and flashbacks that explain what we’ve just seen or set up what’s to come. The film’s at its best in the present as the urgency builds before our eyes, but those jumps backward in time are something of a mixed bag. Some reveal details that ultimately transform into punchlines, but others feel somewhat redundant as they relay information that seems fairly obvious to anyone paying attention.
Us and Them offers thrills both cathartic and blackly comic before things grow even more serious, and while it flails somewhat with a momentum-killing structure the 83 minute running time and a punchy, funky music soundtrack selection ensure the film remains engaging.