Editors’ note: Our Sightseers review originally ran during last year’s Fantastic Fest, but we’re re-posting it as the film gets a limited theatrical release starting today.
The problem with making a truly fantastic film is that sooner or later you have to follow it up with a new movie. If it was your first then rumors will swirl about a sophomore slump, and if it’s your second then people will wonder if you can keep delivering the goods. Ben Wheatley’s last film was the dark, brutal and highly acclaimed Kill List, and that in turn was a giant leap up from his debut, Down Terrace.
Wheatley’s new movie is more of a jump sideways than up, but that’s actually even more impressive. Sightseers maintains the quality and effectiveness of Kill List even as it surprises with a constant stream of laugh out loud hilarity. Where his earlier movies featured darkly comic moments, this one is a flat out comedy… with gory murders.
Has there ever been a love story as great as the one between Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram)? The answer is a resounding yes, but don’t tell that to these two sad-sack lovebirds. Tina is still reeling from the accidental death of her dog Poppy, but when her new beau Chris suggests the two of them take an RV trip across the English countryside she ignores her flatmate’s warnings and hits the road. It doesn’t hurt that her flatmate is her mother who constantly reminds Tina of her culpability in Poppy’s demise and of her failures as a human being.
Optimistic and excited for the trip, the two set out for several days of holiday fun. If only the litterbugs, anal retentive pricks and drunken sluts didn’t get in their way…
The young-ish lovers start by hitting some rural landmarks, but it’s not too long before one man’s indifference to the environment crosses Chris the wrong way. Backing over the man with the camper is purely accidental of course, but the death sets in motion a chain of casual reactions with similar results and soon the two are cutting a swathe of hilarious carnage across England.
Sightseers is first and foremost a comedy, and it’s fantastic seeing Wheatley flex his filmmaking muscles into areas 180 degrees from the sadistic cruelty of his last film. That’s not to say there aren’t some harsh surprises in store here though as the miscellaneous deaths are often of a gleefully gory variety. It’s tempting to draw comparisons to early Peter Jackson for the combination of blackly comic laughs and bloody violence, but unlike Bad Taste this doesn’t feel raw or financially limited.
Equally surprising is the degree of pathos and poignancy the film manages even as the central couple are racking up the kills. Theirs is a doomed romance, but even as viewers conclude that Tina and Chris’ love story will have a definitive end they can’t help but wish them the best. This is due to both the script and the performances making it worth noting that in addition to starring in the lead roles Lowe and Oram wrote the screenplay too.
The characters are twisted in peculiar ways, but the script never paints them as complete nut-jobs. Instead we see and sympathize with Tina’s depression and sheer desire for someone to love her and can almost understand her subsequent actions. Almost. Chris seems far more even keeled, but his normal looking exterior hides a calm sociopath beneath who’s simply looking for a fun vacation. Lowe and Oram have written to their strengths and deliver strong comedic performances with heart.
Sightseers is a low budget road comedy with romance and murder to spare. Fans and non-fans alike of Wheatley’s earlier films should give it a chance as it’s a pure comedy through and through. A stomach for gore is required though.
The Upside: Incredibly funny; acts of violence are often sudden and surprising; both Alice Lowe and Steve Oram make wonderfully endearing sociopaths; manages real poignancy amidst the laughter and bloodshed; perfect ending
The Downside: May be too lightweight for some
On the Side: Ben Wheatley’s next film, A Field in England, was just picked up by Drafthouse Films