Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Steve Oram, Alice Lowe, Amy Jump
Starring: Steve Oram, Alice Lowe, Jonathan Aris, Monica Dolan, Tony Way, Richard Glover, Richard Lumsden
Plot: Chris (Oram) and Tina (Lowe) have only been dating three months and the time has come for the pair to have a holiday together. They embark on a journey around England to see the sights and visit museums. However, the trip slowly evolves into a cross-country murder spree brought about by Chris’ irritation with the general public and Tina’s desire to please her boyfriend.
Americans rarely score with dark comedies; those most critically acclaimed (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Frighteners, and God Bless America, for example) are more cult hits than box office successes. Whilst the Americans hesitate with showing their morbid side, the British revel in their understanding and enjoyment of it. In the U.K the darkest comedies are usually the most favoured and this adoration for the macabre allows for an influx of this kind of material. It’s one of the reasons we so lovingly adopted Tim Burton into our country, view Chris Morris as an iconic anti-hero and enable someone like Ben Wheatley to carry on making films.
Attempt to navigate your way through the musings of Mr. Wheatley and you will inevitably get caught and cut on barbed wire. His twisted, sharp mind is a dangerous realm but still interesting and amusing. His second feature, Kill List, was an unforgettable mash-up of popular genres that highlighted a knack for comedy and, most of all, horror and violence. His third film, Sightseers, may not have been penned by the man himself but it has his style all over it.
Operatic in some senses (slow motion rendering of tense moments – also seen in Kill List) with gory scenes of death blended with jokes you shouldn’t laugh at but can do nothing but, are staples of what we have become to know of Wheatley. There’s a charm to Wheatley’s unabashed way of viewing the world – and giving his opinions on it (“He’s not a person...he’s a Daily Mail reader”) – which is side-splitting now and then. Sightseers is wickedly funny but may prove too sinister for others.
There’s no doubt that the film will divide audiences (as much as Kill List did) as the black humour will either be guiltily pleasurable or appalling for certain viewers. Some may be un-tickled by the bursts of brutality that are graphic and unflinching yet beyond the bloodshed, however, is a twee love-story that is authentic and sweet in some scenes. It is an inviting film – wanting you to be entertained with the comedy and also the romantic aspects (that can be bizarre at points) – although it may not succeed completely as Wheatley’s odd approach to presenting these motifs can be alienating to the general movie-going public.
Through the editing an uncanny atmosphere is introduced that runs through until the end of film – masterful at points but perhaps too weird for some viewers. Not totally finished with the pagan fascination, Wheatley includes a sequence using a smart Eisensteinian montage between a murder and a ritualistic sacrifice – the best indication of Sightseers’ puzzling panache.
The two lead characters are additionally enigmatic – almost emotionally inebriated in some instances. Both Chris and Tina are terrifically portrayed by Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, yet have such hazy psychologies that the audience can never truly connect to them. They are childlike to an extent, leaving them untrustworthy and petty on occasion. The moral ambiguity of their actions is never resolved and whilst it does not have to be, some inkling of how we are to perceive the two could help with our conception of Sightseers’ chain of events. Despite these flaws, you cannot turn away from watching them – whatever’s going through their mind it’s intriguing.
Strange at times, Sightseers will not be for everybody, but for those captivated by the murderous road-trip (complete with some beautiful shots of the English countryside) it will become another great example of the darkest brand of British humour.
****By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms