Directed by Ben Wheatley.
Written By and starring Steve Oram and Alice Lowe.
A dark comedy about Chris and Tina’s murderous trip around the English countryside.
“He’s not a person, Tina; he’s a Daily Mail reader.”
If only blind murder was so simple.
In the beginning of Sightseers, it is. Chris’ (Steve Oram) homicidal tendencies are incited by the slightest of provocations; a father carelessly littering on the ground; a writer who’s more successful; a walker for being rude (and posh). It’s to whom the last person the above quote belongs. He had shouted at Tina (Alice Lowe) about picking up her dog’s faeces on the ground, so Chris crushed his skull against a boulder as though he were trying to light some primitive fire.
It conjures up images of Bonnie and Clyde, of Mickey and Mallory Knox. They’re a particularly American myth – the madly-in-love couple on a crime spree across the Midwest. But Chris and Tina aren’t from the States. They’re from England, and their Chevrolet is a caravan.
The juxtaposition provides many wonderfully droll and mundane observations. “That’s why I’d never have stone flooring,” Tina comments upon hearing of a man who slipped on a rock to his gruesome death. Little does she know, it was her boyfriend of three months who had helped the recently deceased over the edge.
Chris has taken Tina on a tour of the countryside in his caravan. Planned stops include Ribblehead viaduct and the Pencil Museum. The conclusion is fittingly held at Land’s End. They’re serious about each other, and Chris wants to show Tina his world. She was unaware it would contain so much unnecessary ultra-violence.
But they stick at it, because they really do seem to love one another. Much of the film’s warmth radiates from their tenderness. It’s telling that the movie’s most affecting moment (besides the finish), amongst so much visceral gore, is a kiss.
And boy, is the bloodshed gratuitous. The ‘Daily Mail reader’ is shown in full close up once dead, his face so unrecognisable it could as easily pass as one of Tina’s spaghetti bologneses. It’s part of Ben Wheatley’s style. Though nothing here even comes close to the brutality he displays in Kill List, his visual flair for such acts has lost none of its punch. Or splat. Or crack.
Wheatley’s nightmare-ish approach to filmmaking is endearingly terrifying to watch. He shares a tone with The League of Gentleman, and maybe even H. P. Lovecraft. The effect his style has goes deeper than disturbed subjects, or the way he shoots violence. It’s the way he edits. Scenes tumble into one another, while the original dialogue wonders around, lost in a hallway of reels. Basic shot / reverse-shot exchanges become montages of silent characters with speech trailing off into nothingness. Cinema, for Whealtey, is a bad dream, where visual continuity is skewered on a jump cut, strung together by a single, unsettling mood.
Kill List was an extraordinary film and an apex of this style. Sightseers, however, struggles with such a vision. Wheatley had written Down Terrace, his debut, and Kill List, but Sightseers was the brainchild of its stars, Oram and Lowe. It’s the first feature Wheatley’s directed that he hasn’t written, and the tone – even one that involves a gruesome killing spree across the English countryside – might be too light for him.
Still, Sightseers is a wickedly funny film, with great acting, innovate direction and one hell of a soundtrack. And much like Wheatley’s other work, the ending is incredible. He always finishes at the height of the tension, rather than just after, and it hits you harder than the ‘Daily Mail reader’s’ skull hit that rock.
And you’ll still be gasping for breath when the credits roll to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s ‘The Power of Love’. And you think, once you’ve calmed your lungs – screw you, John Lewis.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★