Starring: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Sara Stewart
You may like this if you like: Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004). Four Lions (Chris Morris, 2010), In Bruges (Martin McDonagh, 2008)
Sightseers tells the story of Tina (Lowe) a repressed midlander who still lives with her mum and has never come to terms for her part in the accidental death of her mum’s dog, Poppy. Her new boyfriend Chris (Oram) has decided to take her away on a caravan holiday tour of the north of England on what he describes as ‘an erotic odyssey’. However, due to other tourists acting in ways to annoy them, events take a slightly dark and murderous route.
Ben Wheatley’s previous film Kill List got consistently really good reviews, but I was not to keen on it myself. Sightseers received very similar applause so I was very sceptical but decided I should see it, and I must confess I was pleasantly surprised. Firstly it is nothing like Kill List (thank God!), the only similarity is in only that the occasional gore is very realistic and unashamedly brutal, but that is to its credit. This is most definitely one of the most strikingly original films I have seen for a while; also I must confess that I am finding it very hard to review.
This is a frequent issue I have, but on all the posters are quotes claiming that this film is ‘laugh out loud’ funny, though there are indeed some very funny moments. I personally felt that the humour was much more subtle and quintessentially British, but to be described as ‘laugh out loud’ may be a little misleading. This is probably more down to those clever people in marketing whose job it is to get bums on seats. I get that, but this may lead to some feeling disappointed as it can be misleading and lead to false expectations. A classic example of this is the American DVD cover of the Cuban film Strawberries and Chocolate (Tomas Gutierrez Alea, 1993) but trust me, you do not want to get me started on that!
Sightseers is very much a black comedy in that both the violence is brutal and the actual story itself is very dark. I do not want to give too much away, but apart from the very first killing, all others are not accidents. I must confess that at first I struggled to figure out where the film was going and actually understand the two protagonist’s mindsets. After a while, the film does become very watchable and strangely compelling.
One of the reasons that this is very watchable is that of the performances of Lowe and Oram (who also wrote the script), their deadpan style and natural chemistry is very effective and their characters are very compelling to watch. Though there are some very dark and deluded thoughts and ideologies inside their minds, they are very likeable (the midlands accents are a very effective part of this).
A lot of credit here has to go to Ben Wheatley; he somehow manages to juggle the funny with the sinister in a very effective way. It is clear he is always very much in control of his film and he uses some very effective cinematic techniques without there ever being a feeling of style over substance. The film itself does feel very cinematic with very effective use of British scenery as well as non-diagetic music in the right places.
In summary, Sightseers is an extremely original and entertaining experience. Not as funny as the marketing people try to let on, but the mixture of sinister and funny is handled expertly and effectively by Wheatley and there will not be another film like this for a while.