Director: Ben Wheatley
Cast: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Eileen Davies
Running time: 88 minutes
Release date: November 30
Banality, humour and the psychopathic converge in Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers, a genre-defying black comedy about an undistinguished couple who employ extreme violence as a means of transcendence with alarming regularity.
Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) decide to take their fledgling relationship to the next level by embarking on a tour of the Yorkshire countryside in a caravan. A gangly, cheerful sort, Chris swings by Tina’s house—where she leads an unfulfilling and cloistered existence with her half-barmy mother—and having wrested his belle from the clutches of the disapproving matriarch, the pair set off on their merry way.
Their itinerary includes stop-offs at exotic sights such as Crich Tramway Museum, the Ribblehead Viaduct and the Keswick Pencil Museum. But things take an ugly turn upon their arrival in Crich when, after taking umbrage at the actions of a litterbug, Chris ‘accidentally’ runs over and kills the offender. This sets the scene for the remainder of their murderous journey, with Tina rapidly transforming from unwilling accomplice to active participant.
Oram and Lowe penned the film’s screenplay and have their roles nailed down as a result, both delivering their deadpan lines masterfully and conveying the sinister element to Chris and Tina’s personalities with an apparent casualness that makes them both compelling to watch. Status-wise Chris and Tina are non-persons who have little stake in society, Tina spending much of her time knitting at home and Chris—who claims to be an aspiring writer—on a sabbatical from work. If they were characters in an English soap they would be the nerdy couple on the corner who nobody cares to notice.
Lying about their mundane back story to unsuspecting strangers, the two harbour a great degree of class resentment, and violence is their weapon of choice in response to perceived slights. This gives them a feeling of self-empowerment—and rapidly solidifies the bond between the pair—but it also makes them increasingly petty and intolerant, to the extent that some of their actions become excessive even by their own warped standards.
Director Wheatley solidifies his reputation as one of British cinema’s most exciting talents with this, his third feature film, made for a modest €1.5million. Sumptuous English landscapes provide the backdrop for this morbid tale, the director refusing to make it easy for us to pass absolute judgment on his characters. There is a moral dualism at play which presumably is intended to make the viewing experience all the more disconcerting, and his deft use of sound in the murder scenes lend them a particularly chilling quality. Add in a troupe of chicken-slaying shamans from Portsmouth and a vomit-eating dog, and the end result is a straight-out-of-left-field movie that delights in its welcome departure from the norm and is destined to achieve cult status.