Movie Review : Us and Them (2017)
* This review contains spoilers *
Brexit and Donald Trump’s election have turned the world upside down in 2016. Their victory gave institutional validation to far right rhetoric and instantly radicalized global political discourse. It became cool to be a communist because the streets started crawling with nazis. Because of that, we now have movies like Us and Them, which glamorize heinous crimes as acts of political resistance. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies that are subversive and dangerous. But Us and Them isn’t any of that. It’s a movie that’s distastefully pandering to frustrated, underachieving white men.
And it’s obviously failing at it, because I hated the damned thing.
Us and Them is the story of Danny (Jack Roth), an angry youth working in a call center where they monitor his bathroom breaks *. After hearing dating trust fund kids have an irresponsible discussion about economics at the pub, he decides to kick start a revolution by invading the girl’s home, kidnapping her family and forcing her dad to choose between her and his wife. Whoever he picks will be burned alive in front of the other… and the internet, so that people can feel inspired to do the same. I know, it’s fucked up. It’s like Michael Haneke’s Funny Games meets old Guy Ritchie movies.
Now, I don’t know under what circumstances home invasion would become a cool and counter-cultural thing. The idea seemed idiotic and doomed at the start unless director Joe Martin committed at making Danny or rich dad Conrad (Tim Bentinck) over-the-top evil. Martin clearly tried to do the latter here, but no matter how condescending and verbally abusive Conrad can be, he still comes off as a goddamn hero. He valiantly protects his family until Danny puts him in a lose-lose situation where he needs to assure the survival of at least one of them. Conrad might be rich, but he’s in a situation where wealth doesn’t really matter.
Another reason why I empathized with Conrad more than with Danny is that a home invasion is a terrifying fucking ordeal. His motivations are clearer than Danny’s: he wants his family to survive. Danny’s motivations on the other hand come off as superficial, entitled and borderline psychotic. Since Us and Them is more or less all happening during the home invasion, the audience has to take for granted he’s been cheated by the system. Danny so profoundly lacks credibility that Joe Martin plastered a scene where his dad commits suicide (out of economic despair, I suppose) in order to borrow emotional depth. Even if his dad doesn’t have anything to do with anything.
Us and Them is bad. It’s not incompetent outside of being a little tone deaf (it can’t decide whether or not it wants to be a grim speculative drama or an up tempo counter-cultural thriller), but it’s lead by a noxious logic meant to impress hapless loners who spent too much time browsing 4chan. It might inspire young and gullible people to do atrocious things to other human beings out of a gut feeling they’re being cheated. Home invasion is not cool, guys. It’s never been cool and it’ll never be, no matter what edgy and opportunistic directors might think. Us and Them will make you root for a rich banker and that alone should tell you what you need to know about it.
* I pissed my youth away in a call center myself from 2008 to 2012, so I can confirm this is common practice in these hellholes.