Sightseers

Sightseers

****

Reviewed by: Neil Mitchell

After helming the hitman/Wicker Man hybrid that was Kill List, which followed low-budget, claustrophobic crime family saga Down Terrace, Ben Wheatley ups the ante in the violence and gags department with his latest movie, Sightseers. Written by its two leads, Steve Oram and Alice Lowe – familiar to fans of The Mighty Boosh, Garth Merenghi's Darkplace and other offbeat, cult TV comedies - Sightseers combines banal reality, slapstick comedy and Grand Guignol theatrics to riotous effect in its tale of a caravanning holiday cum 'erotic odyssey' descending into an ever more eyebrow raising bloodbath.

The dysfunctional relationships, murderous outbursts and Machiavellian power plays seen in Wheatley's previous efforts are once again present in this jet black, hearts-of-darkness excursion around the heritage sites, museums and alternately bleak and beautiful landscapes of the English countryside. The two exaggeratedly grotesque but, crucially, recognisable characters at the heart of the movie, Chris (Oram) and Tina (Lowe), are ideal conduits for the writers' and director's outre imaginations, offering as they do carte blanche to hurl splenetic, scatological and extreme dialogue and imagery in every direction.

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A vicious spin on Mike Leigh's Nuts In May, a demented alternative to Gerald Thomas' Carry On Camping, Sightseers also evokes The League Of Gentlemen and the dark comedy of Julia Davis' Nighty Night and Lizzie & Sarah. This is not to the movie's detriment, as Sightseers stands on its own two feet as an hilariously disturbing variation rather than parody or homage of and to the aforementioned works.

Our collective love affair with pets, littering, dog fouling, hen parties, middle-class affectations, Daily Mail readers, working class grudges, shamanic drum circles and the (un)kindness of strangers are satirised, upended, blackened and battered in a wave of graphic, gross-out violence and caustic language. If Malick's lands were bad, then Wheatley's are sad, as small injustices, petty jealousies and perceived slights lead to cold-blooded murder and childish revenge. Crap weather, parochial attitudes and underwhelming tourist attractions are elements of the country we are all familiar with. Rarely have they been so outrageously utilised as they are in Sightseers.

A key aspect in the movie's success is that Chris and Tina - one a bitter, frustrated 'nothing' and the other downtrodden and emotionally suffocated by her overbearing mother – are exactly the sort of dowdy, nondescript couple you would expect to find visiting a tram museum or staying on a caravan site. Their seeming ordinariness makes Chris and Tina's verbal interactions and outbursts of savage violence all the funnier and more shocking respectively. The 'ginger faced man' and the 'angry woman' - as one news reporter succinctly dubs them – are anti-heroes, but they are anti-heroes we can partly sympathise with; after all, who hasn't been driven to distraction by anti-social behaviour, busy-bodies or smug have-it-alls? The moral conundrum evoked by the narrative is that our empathy with the amusing couple aligns us in some way with their monstrous behaviour.

Wheatley's evident interest in urban/rural, civilised/uncivilised, domesticated/untamed divides (touched upon in both Down Terrace and Kill List), has its fullest exploration to date through Chris and Tina's barbaric journey. The further away from home the pair get, the more brutal they become. Likewise, the director's flirtations with English folklore, superstition and ancient traditions – via discussions about ley lines and images of stone circles and animal sacrifice – bear comparison with the pagan imagery and archaic practices seen in the climactic scenes in Kill List.

Given that Wheatley's next film, A Field In England, is an English Civil War period piece revolving around alchemy, magic mushrooms and buried treasure it appears that his interest in meshing together reality and fantasy, idyllic, natural environments with unnatural behaviour and humour and violence will continue. In a short period of time, Wheatley has carved out a distinct career for himself, and I for one look forward to seeing where his obvious love of movies, personal interests and penchant for in-your-face storytelling will take him.

Reviewed on: 18 Nov 2012
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Sightseers packshot
A young couple on a caravan holiday find themselves going on a killing spree.
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Director: Ben Wheatley

Writer: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Eileen Davies, Richard Glover

Starring: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Alice Jump

Year: 2012

Runtime: 88 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: UK


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