Ben Wheatley’s film Kill List won him critical praise and attention. I quite liked it, but felt that in its attempt to be shocking and different it lost control and sacrificed its own intelligence for weird scares. Sightseers, Wheatley’s latest, is an offbeat, amiably dark comedy about a couple in their thirties who go off to see rural England in their mobile campervan.
Tina (Alice Lowe) is in her mid-thirties and is still living at home with her mum. Her dog died the year before (in bizarre and hilarious circumstances) and her mother has never quite forgiven her. But things look a bit better for Tina when she falls in love with Chris (Steve Oram) who whisks her off on a romantic tour around Worcestershire.
When a guy drops a Cornetto wrapper during a ride at a tram museum, Chris becomes upset. How could someone do something like that? So when he is reversing the car and campervan out of the carpark, he “accidentally” squashes the bloke under his many wheels. This gives way to a series of murders the couple commit, with Tina trying to work out where she stands on the whole thing. At one point she muses about the difficulties of killing people, and Steve, who is dragging the mangled body of a man he has just smashed into a rock, responds ‘He’s not a human being, he’s a Daily Mail reader’.
It’s a more disciplined picture than Kill List and Wheatley’s debut Down Terrace. The plotting is tighter, the comedy hits more than it misses, and the darker side of the humour has all the more impact because of it.
Some have compared Sightseers to Terrance Malick’s film Badlands, and although Wheatley’s style is obviously very different, there is something true about this comparison. Both films contain lost souls who arguably find purpose in killing. They are also both romances, and the love Tina feels for Steve is played out rather beautifully.
One could envisage difficulties in making a film that involves its audience to connect with serial killers, but the script (written by the two leads) intelligently makes sure we are both unsettled by our knitwear-clad killers and drawn to them.
If watching Kill List was, as Tim Robey in the Telegraph commented, like having your head shoved down a rabbit hole, Sightseers feels like a tour around a bloodied wonderland by two very mad hatters. The premise is stretched to its limits, even if the film is only 88 minutes long, but for the majority of its running time it is a funny and memorable reminder of how twisted British comedy can get.
Sightseers (2012), directed by Ben Wheatley, is distributed in the UK by StudioCanal, Certificate 15. It is released in cinemas on 30 November.