Dark, deadpan, violent and very, very funny, director Ben Wheatley’s follow-up to Kill List shows exactly why a strong script and performances often defeat even the biggest Hollywood budget. Wheatley’s movie, scripted by its stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram (with additional material from Amy Jump), is a filmic cocktail mixing Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip, any Shane Meadows film and Natural Born Killers. Yes, that sounds weird, but it’s right.
While many of its quotable lines have the potential to become catchphrases and its comic set pieces will no doubt become popular YouTube destinations, what underpins Sightseers is the creation of two lead characters who audiences will root for. And this is the case no matter how twisted or violent their adventures become. This is partly because it’s possible to identify the annoyance and angst that drives the pair of them at the start. It’s also because Oram and Lowe are spectacularly good as Chris and Tina, a new couple who just want to have a nice holiday in Chris’s caravan. They’re pretty sure they didn’t want to commit all those murders. Well, perhaps not all of them …
So how do Chris and Tina end up in such a dark place? We meet Tina at a bad time for her. She’s in her 30s, living at home with her elderly, cantankerous and devious mum Carol (Eileen Davies). Poppy, Carol’s beloved dog, has recently died and not only is Carol grieving but there’s an air of hostility that suggests Tina was culpable in Poppy’s premature popping off.
Chris comes on the scene: the new boyfriend eager to whisk Tina off in his caravan and show her the delights of Yorkshire. On the agenda are trips to a tram village, and a pencil museum. But at the tram village Chris encounters a litter lout. He is indignant at the man. Soon the man has a brief but conclusive encounter with the back of Chris’s caravan. And soon after Chris and Tina’s moral compass takes a decisive shift; it’s not a shift for good.
Sightseers is set among the craggy, rolling and dramatic countryside of the UK’s Midlands and Yorkshire and this, along with the weather, forms a counterpoint to the brutal but casual violence Chris and Tina dish out along the way. In between the bashing and battering, you’ll be surprised at the erotic power of knitted lingerie, dazzled by the moulded plastic majesty of the caropod and, quite possibly, fancy buying an enormous pencil from a pencil museum.
There is so much to enjoy in Sightseers: the editing is snappy, the sound design emphasises the cracks and crunches of bodies being bumped off, and the cinematography is, well, it’s absolutely perfect for reflecting an out-of-season caravan holiday in England.
But the real enjoyment comes in watching Chris and Tina’s relationship develop and in the richness and versatility in Oram and Lowe’s performances. It can be difficult to get deadpan comedy and casual violence right, as it’s all about finding the right tone for the audience to feel OK with enjoying it, but Sightseers makes it seem easy. A dark, sweet treat of a film, and one so good you should probably stay in the cinema to watch it a second time.