18th Mar2013

‘Sightseers’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Eileen Davies, Richard Glover, Monica Dolan, Jonathan Aris, Richard Lumsden | Written by Alice Lowe, Steve Oram | Directed by Ben Wheatley

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Kill List director Ben Wheatley returns with his latest opus, Sightseers, a very British black comedy which is penned by its stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram and tells the story of Chris (Oram) who wants to show Tina (Lowe) his world and he wants to do it his way – on a journey through the British Isles in his beloved Abbey Oxford Caravan. Tina’s led a sheltered life and there are things that Chris needs her to see – the Crich Tramway Museum, the Ribblehead Viaduct, the Keswick Pencil Museum and the rolling countryside that accompanies these wonders in his life. But it doesn’t take long for the dream to fade. 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, over a very jagged edge…

On paper Sightseers couldn’t be further from Wheatley’s previous effort Kill List. Whereas that film was a supernatural-tinged kitchen sink drama, this film, at least at first glance, looks like almost the antithesis of Kill List – a film about a couple on a caravaning holiday across the British countryside. However the pair both share a very black, and very British, sense of gallows humour; and whilst Kill List ultimately unleashes a nightmare on it’s central characters, in Sightseers the central characters are a nightmare for everyone they meet! There’s a typically British farce trying to escape in this film, but it’s blackest of black humour keeps the movie in check, stopping it from treading very clearly into Carry On Camping territory.

In a bizarre way Sightseers is about empowerment. Both Chris and Tina are, at least in their everyday lives, timid and shy. We learn Chris was forced out of his job due to bullying and Tina lives under the thumb of her overbearing mother, so their trip become an empowering escape from their everyday humdrum existence – and its the freedom from their detractors which leads to the discovery of the duo’s more… vicious… side. Without any constraints upon them the pair turn maniacal, vicariously getting back at those that have done them wrong by killing those that “offend” them during their trip.

Blending Mike Leigh’s kitchen sink style filmmaking with Tarantino-esque ultra-violence and a dash of John Waters Serial Mom, Sightseers is a tour-de-force of comedy and murder with a very British sensibility. Admittedly the film does run out of steam towards the end, but is without a doubt Ben Wheatley most accessible film yet. Those that loved Kill List might not appreciate the lighter tone but for those, like me, who thought Wheatley’s previous effort was over-hyped and overwrought, Sightseers is a fantastic, madcap, murderous journey through the British countryside.

**** 4/5

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