Film Review: Sightseers (Ben Wheatley. UK, 2012)

I’ve always had a morbid sense of humour, and a thing for dark comedies about murder. It’s not necessarily that I think murder is funny; it really sucks, for the most part. However, the marriage of terror and comedy can have delightful results. Such is the case with Sightseers.

The story follows a thirty-something year old woman named Tina and her new boyfriend Chris (played by screenwriters Alice Lowe and Steve Oram) as they embark on one of those British caravan tour holiday things in their knit sweaters and sad, baggy old person jeans. Chris is an aspiring writer with a ginger beard that I found quite unsettling.

creepy chris

Ugh.

Tina is rather mousy and has a bad relationship with her mother. The mother doesn’t want Tina going away with Chris because he’s “a murderer.” She does not clarify this.

I won’t spoil too much of the movie for you, but of course there are going to be killings. Incredibly, they aren’t even the most interesting parts of the film. Tina and Chris are wonderfully written and their development as people and lovers has more depth than I’ve seen in many straight dramas. At first, Chris appears to be the creepy one, while meek and mild Tina follows along out of desperation (she reminded me of Nell from the Haunting of Hill House). Gradually we see how easily Tina can become unhinged in the less-restricted nomad society of tourists, and how easy it is to identify with Creepy Chris. Their quest to understand each other and find purpose and balance in their lives is actually really sweet.

It sort of depends on how you define "sweet."

It sort of depends on how you define “sweet.”

And the violence unfolds in a very unexpected way. I’m used to seeing the murderous couples of cinema either trying to cleanse the world of extreme undesirables, or preying on the innocent. Most of the violence here is prompted by the sort of thing you’d call a “pet peeve,” or an annoyance that might invoke a quick flash of rage that can be instantly forgiven and forgotten about. In that way, the film comments on why we’ll never have truly peaceful societies, and on the horrible passive-aggressive ways we deal with people who piss us off about things that are, in the grand scheme of things, small. Even though I’m not from UK, I could identify with the urge to kill a sloppy litterer (not really. Please don’t call the cops on me).

Another nice thing about this film is the cinematography. I tend to be bothered by hand-held cameras, but this movie looks great. They managed to extract a beauty from the dull, kinda ugly places and faces of Great Britain. The editing seems well thought out, too; the camera lingers on certain landscapes that really deserve to be lingered on. There are some stand out sequences were verisimilitude is abandoned in favour of fucked up dream imagery, but it totally makes sense! Usually that just seems like a masturbatory exercise for a director to use all the tricks he learned in film school, but not here. And the soundtrack is totally rad.

I’ve probably said too much. I saw this film without knowing anything about it, and I recommend you do the same. Don’t watch the trailer. Don’t read too much about the film or its makers. Just watch it, then send me $20 as a thank you. Then watch Nuts in May from 1976, which I haven’t seen, but I hear is quite similar in terms of plot. Then watch Ben Wheatley’s other films (A Field in England, Kill List), as I am about to do. Then come back here so we can talk about how pleased/disappointed we are.

Thanks for reading, and have a nice day.

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