Directed by Ben Wheatley.
Written By and Starring Steve Oram and Alice Lowe.
Chris wants to show girlfriend Tina his world, but events soon conspire against the couple and their dream caravan holiday takes a very wrong turn.
If you saw Ben Wheatley’s first two features (Down Terrace and Kill List) you’d be forgiven for thinking he’d found his niche. Dark, blackly funny twists on the well-worn British crime drama – gangsters, family tensions and that ill-fated ‘one-last-job’ were all present and correct, but always presented in a way that felt at least interesting, and when it worked best, completely unique. A film like Down Terrace could, in a lesser director’s hands, so easily have been another bargain-bin London gangster flick, but the component parts were twisted into something entirely more memorable. (the same can be said of Kill List, although that film didn’t so much twist genre convention as beat it to death with a hammer)
Sightseers then, his third film, advertised itself as a kind of post-Shaun of the Dead black Brit-Com – a murderous Nuts in May. As it happens, it’s infinitely more. For all the crime films that have tried to push the notion of banality of evil, sightseers takes it to the next level, an orgy of casual murder and wanton violence set against a backdrop of museums dedicated to trams and pencils. Execution on the grounds of dropped Cornetto wrappers.
For a film ostensibly about a killing spree, they’re often so blasé that you hardly notice them. Like Badlands and Natural Born Killers before it, the crimes aren’t the heart of this film, but rather it’s the relationship at its centre that provides the drama, and even in such exaggerated circumstances Sightseers’ couple remain entirely believable. Chris (Steve Oram) appears to be leading Tina (Alice Lowe), showing her, as she puts it, ‘his world’, but in the end it’s he that’s the more naive. For all his flaws – and serial murder is a big one – he’s a romantic, really.
For a subject so ugly, the visuals are often legitimately beautiful, and credit has to go to DP Laurie Rose, whose work on Kill List was equally instrumental in that film’s lasting impact (most notably it’s horrendous final sequence). The lingering mist and great, wide skies of the Dales are perfectly, and it all adds to the film’s jet-black tone (there’s a dawn sequence set on top of a small cliff that brings to mind the sunrises Michael Cimino would waste entire days waiting for on Heaven’s Gate, Wheatley says it was just luck.) Shots of burning caravans and Oram’s Chris staring intently toward the camera after a kill will linger in the mind for a good while afterwards. This, along with the rather lovely soundtrack, with a score by regular collaborator James Williams, gives the whole film a peculiar sense of melancholy, never more pronounced than the glorious final scene, one that gives new life to Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Christmas perennial ‘The Power of Love’. For me, and I suspect many others, that song will now likely forever take me back to the Ribblehead Aqueduct. This is no bad thing.
Aside from all this, it’s amongst the year’s best comedies, destined for late night screenings and double bills. a parade of endlessly quotable lines that lose no impact on second viewing. And that it was written by it’s stars is no surprise considering the natural performances. There are some that might balk at Sightseers, and it’s understandable. This is after all, a Ben Wheatley film, and he’s never been afraid to keep the camera on a pulverized face or two. But if you’re not Chris Tookey, and if the gore isn’t a problem, then it’s hard to imagine anyone who could dislike Sightseers. Go, and marvel at the fact that an idea so unpleasant can be such a joy to watch.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★ ★