OUT NOW ON DVD AND BLU-RAY
RUNNING TIME: 88 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Chris is a caravan fan and aspiring writer who takes his girlfriend Tina, who has lead a sheltered life since her dog died in a knitting accident, on a trip round the countryside, much to the chagrin of Tina’s mother. At one of their stops, Chris yells at a man who is littering. When they get back to their car, Chris accidentally runs him over and kills him, which upsets the couple but they continue onward with their trip. It seems that Chris is actually a serial killer, with a tendency for sudden, explosive outbursts which result in the violent deaths of random strangers who have crossed, or simply inconvenienced him, in some way. When the none-too-bright Tina finally cottons onto the fact that Chris has murdered at least two people since their sightseeing holiday began, she faces a stark choice between returning alone to her overbearing mother, or continuing to accompany her barmy boyfriend on his murderous spree…..
“This is not my vagina!” A strange way to begin a review, but I can’t get those words out of my head thanks to Sightseers. Now of course humour might very well be more subjective than anything else. What one person finds funny, someone else will not. I have actually sat watching Airplane with people who have barely managed a smile while I, as I always do, laughed so much I still think I may have missed some jokes. Therefore, if I tell you that Sightseers is the funniest new film I’ve seen in a while, I certainly don’t expect every other viewer to find it as funny, though I hope they recognise the film’s quality. There are some who find the subject of multiple murder, for a start, to be not something to laugh at, and fair play, I respect their opinion even as I may remind them that the cinema has an honourable tradition of seeing the funny side of serial killing ranging from the brilliant American Psycho all the way back to 1949 and Kind Hearts And Coronets. In any case, Sightseers certainly reached my funny bone. It’s a jet-black comedy which, as with director Ben Wheatley’s previous two pictures, exudes Englishness while at the same time subverting it. There is no way this film could come from another country, yet it also, bizarrely, seems to have the eye of an outsider.
Wheatley did not actually write this particular movie. The script actually comes from the pen of stand-up comedians Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, who also star and actually had played the characters in comedy sketches for years, yet it’s almost the flipside to Kill List, the insanely dark, twisted but excellent film he made before. That film is a true journey into the heart of darkness where killing is shown to be a truly horrible business that is not something to laugh at. Sightseers is, in its own way, a similar journey, and perhaps at times just as disturbing, but it’s a lighter, sunnier affair that allows us to laugh at the crazy things its two main protagonists get up to…which some may say actually makes it nastier. It gives us, courtesy of Laurie Rose, who made even me want to visit the Crich Tramway Museum, the Keswick Pencil Musuem and the Ribblehead Viaduct, some of the beautiful cinematography of the English countryside in years, but also gives us two psychopaths who you are asked to like for much of the time. It’s been called Nuts In May meets Bonnie And Clyde, though I would replace the latter film with Badlands, and say that in no way does Sightseers have the horrible condescending attitude that for me blights Mike Leigh’s work.
The opening scene is extremely off-kilter, with a lengthy, deathly cry heard in conjuncture with the music score over images of a map showing where our couple intend to travel to. The cry is revealed to actually belong to Tina’s mother, and very good screenwriting here tells us, in just two or three brief scenes, what she’s like and the nature of her relationship with her daughter. She’s pitiful and pathetic, yet cruel [it’s indicated she beats Tina] and controlling. She reminded me somewhat of Carrie’s mad mum. Small wonder then that Tina disobeys her wishes and goes on an “erotic odyssey” with her boyfriend, who seems like such a nice chap even if he does look like a cross between Paul Giamatti and Frankie Boyle. Tina comes across as a dopey cow and initially you may wonder what Chris is doing with her, though of course he is soon revealed to be not such a nice guy after all.
Now Chris is one of those guys who is easily annoyed. Especially by people. The first person who annoys him is a litter lout. Now I hate litter louts too, in fact I get annoyed by many of the things Chris gets annoyed at like rudeness, self-absorption, and being serenely happy [if I’m in a bad mood]. Of course I’m not a killer, and won’t deliberately slaughter [well, it’s ambiguous for the first killing, but I think it was intentional] those who wind me up, but Sightseers deviously gets us to dislike the victims-to-be without really making us think Chris is right in ending their miserable existence. Chris’s comment on one victim: “he’s not a person, he’s a Daily Mail reader” is there to show his hard-line mindset, not yet another tiresome attack on the right-wing rag. We believe that he truly believes that he is, to use his words, “giving to the world” by his actions. Much of this is down to the superb performance of Steven Oram, who brilliantly conveys psychopathia beneath normality and always resists going over the top. Then again, Alice Lowe is also excellent, and maybe has the harder part. She not only has to make convincing that she doesn’t once consider going to the police when she discovers what her boyfriend has been up to, but that she happily accepts things after a short while, and, while Chris never seems to change except when he shows amazing hypocrisy [yet, and this is important, it makes sense considering his personality], Tina becomes a totally different person to the one she starts off as.
The killings, though not dwelt upon, are very convincing. The excellent special effects don’t look like they employ CGI and are all the better for it. Most of the humour consists of wry quips. “That’s why I’d never have stone flooring” says Tina when she discovers someone has [supposedly] fallen off a cliff. There’s also a funny sex scene and even some chuckles involving a [very] cute dog which maybe belong more in a kiddie flick, but I laughed so it didn’t bother me. As I said before, it just depends on what you find funny, and maybe they wouldn’t have worked for me so well without the brilliant delivery in Black County accents; I don’t know why, and I don’t mean to sound offensive to any readers, but things just sound automatically funnier when said in that kind of accent. In any case the story will keep you guessing as to its outcome. The story offers a clever twist on all those films which play into our xenophobic fears and have English or American tourists encounter something very nasty when going abroad. In Sightseers, the tourists themselves are the menace, while Chris is nothing less than a caricature of Old Englishness in his attitudes and mindset.
Wheatley’s direction isn’t as stylized as Kill List’s, with none of that films jagged, Terence Malick-in-a-bad-mood editing, but he does use slow motion and clever editing [by three people: Wheatley, his wife Amy Jump, and Robin Hill] to link events in different places together. A few moments of sheer strangeness stick in the mind, like a dream scene that opens with a beautifully haunting shot straight out of a Hammer film where a white-clad woman is walking in a misty forest, and goes on to contain a shot from the end of the film. It doesn’t really explain the psyche of one of the characters, but I’m glad it’s there. Sightseers could maybe have done with more depth, and the odd scene misses the mark, but overall it’s another really impressive movie from Wheatley, hugely fun while with a bit more depth than may at first seem apparent. After all, don’t we all……
“just want to be feeling perspective? Not too much to ask for, is it?”