Sightseers – film review

Director: Ben Wheatley
Written by & Starring Alice Lowe & Steve Oram
Additional Material by Amy Jump
Released: November 30th 2012 / Running Time: 88 minutes / Cert: 18

Gifted British director Ben Wheatley, whose previous credits include the Brighton gangster film liberally laced with gallows humour Down Terrace (2009) and the dark, twisted hitman drama Kill List (2011), returns with his best film to date and one of the movies of the year – the black comic killing spree/ caravanning holiday picture, Sightseers.

Tina (Alice Lowe) is an introverted dog walker who lives with her suffocating mother Carol (Eileen Davis). Yet things change when she meets appealing wag/frustrated aspiring writer Chris (Steve Oram). Soon Tina and Chris are bidding farewell to her mother and setting off for the camping trip of a lifetime. Chris wants to show Tina his world and he desires to do it his way – on a journey from Redditch in the Midlands to Settle in Yorkshire, in his adored Abbey Oxford Caravan.

Tina’s led a sheltered life and their things Chris needs to show her – the Crich Tramway Museum, the Keswick Pencil Museum, the Ribblehead Viaduct and the rolling countryside that surround these sacred places in his life. Yet it does not take long for the dream to fade into a nightmare.

Litterbugs, noisy teenagers and pre-booked caravan sites, not to mention Tina’s meddling mother, soon conspire to shatter Chris’s dreams and send him, and anyone who rubs him up the wrong way, into trouble as the couple become the Bonnie and Clyde of the English countryside and Chris can unleash Tina’s hidden passions.

Chris looks like a harmless rambler but beneath his everyman ginger bearded exterior he desperately wants to be “feared and respected.”

The first stop on Chris and Tina’s road trip is the outwardly staid Crich tramway museum. During the tour, Chris sees another visitor carelessly drop his ice-cream wrapper on the floor of a vintage tram. Chris is left seething by the litterbug’s open contempt for his declarations (he gives Chris the finger) and, as they prepare to leave the museum, reverses the caravan over the man and kills him. Tina and Chris’ passions are ignited by the murder and they hurriedly have sex in the caravan, in a busy truck stop surrounded by curious lorry drivers. But this is only the beginning. The body count rises, as Chris vents his widespread vexations murderously and Tina proves herself to be more than capable of following, and perhaps surpassing, his lead.

Wheatley’s superb film features a distinctive blend of movie genres. The result is almost a Frankie Boyle style vision of Natural Born Killers mixed with a Mike Leigh movie, The Honeymoon Killers and a far bloodier version of any Ealing comedy. Yet none of these cinematic reference points impinge greatly upon Wheatley’s own singular vision.

Director of photography Laurie Rose and production designer Jane Levick both foreground elements of England’s past that surrounds the couple in the beautiful but harsh countryside. As the pair both become more unhinged and their journey takes them deeper into inaccessible areas, the violent heart of darkness of English history seems closer to the present day.

Wheatley and his cast always manage to keep the comedy from becoming too board, thus keeping the gory scenes vivid and potent, while highlighting the class discord that fuels Chris’ rage. Jim Williams’ score is suitably spooked and there is also great use of pop music to offer ironic comment on the unfolding blood-spattered odyssey.

Only Peter Strickland’s excellent Berberian Sound Studio comes close to matching Sightseers as the most exciting, unusual, innovative and darkly humorous UK film released during the last twelve months. Don’t miss it.

All words by Ian Johnston. You can read more from Ian on LTW here.

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