Director Ben Wheatley (of Kill List fame) is back with Sightseers, a blissfully black comedy that is equal parts shocking and hilarious.
Tina (Alice Lowe) is in her early 30s yet still under the thrall of her domineering mother. Tina’s new boyfriend, Chris (Steve Oram), decides they should go on a caravan holiday around England, visiting such historical sites as the Crich Tramway Museum and the Keswick Pencil Museum, and she is giddy with anticipation of time spent outside of her home. The trip has barely begun, however, before Chris has killed a fellow tourist. The body count rises as the holiday continues, and as you’ll quickly discover, Sightseers isn’t a film to shirk from the gory results of our lovers’ actions. The film consistently aims for a fiendishly dark tone, and for the most part succeeds.
Lowe’s depiction of Tina is borderline genius. A complex character, her intensity never lets up for a moment, whether she’s head over heels in love, filled with a furious anger or childishly indignant over some slight. To Lowe’s credit, it’s never entirely clear just how in control of her own actions she is – sometimes she’s being led astray by the comfortably amoral Chris, sometimes she’s the one steering the narrative.
While Chris is in some ways the character that sets proceedings in motion, he’s a less interesting character. Perhaps this is because he remains largely static – outside forces (and Alice herself) may unbalance him, but he’s kind of unwavering in his murderous tendencies, even if he doesn’t see them as anything particularly sinister.
The problem with Sightseers is that it’s hard to get emotionally engaged with either of our travellers. In between all the casually delivered yet outrageous dialogue and the horrendous acts of violence, I never really understood who I was supposed to be rooting for. Maybe this is in fact the point of the film, but it made for rather a superficial viewing experience.
As with Kill List, Sightseers looks wonderful and is masterfully directed. Cinematographer Laurie Rose (who worked on both of Wheatley’s previous feature films) has a brilliant cinematic eye. There are moments of incredible beauty, even if the scenery (caravan parks) and trappings (knitted woollen jumpers and furry fluorescent owl toys) are anything but. Several slow motion sequences are the highlights of the film, soundtracked as they are by such hits of yore as ‘Season of the Witch’.
Sightseers is bound to be a cult hit and seemingly designed for those who don’t mind a bit of the old ultraviolence in their romantic road movie. The lack of character development – or indeed escalation – is a little disappointing, however.Rating: