Friday, June 7, 2013

Movie Review: Sightseers

Directed by: Ben Wheatley.
Written by:  Alice Lowe & Steve Oram.
Starring: Alice Lowe (Tina), Steve Oram (Chris), Eileen Davies (Carol), Seamus O'Neill (Mr. Grant), Monica Dolan (Janice), Jonathan Aris (Ian), Aymen Hamdouchi (Chalid Sulinan).

Ben Wheatley’s Kill List was one of the best films of 2012 that very few people saw. That film went from kitchen sink drama to hit man-for-hire film to bizarre cult horror film that brought the violence in the first act full circle. Despite the tonal shifts in that film, Wheatley masterfully handled his ever twisting plot. By comparison, his morbid black comedy Sightseers is a less ambitious effort – but it is still a very entertaining, bloody, hilarious comedy about two average British-Joes who become serial killers on the road.

Tina (Alice Lowe) is in her mid-30s, and still lives at home with her mother (Eileen Davies), who tries very hard to make Tina feel bad about wanting to have any sort of life outside of caring for her. When she announces he’s going on holiday with her new boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram) – packing up into an old caravan, to visit historic sights and museums in Northern England, her mother thinks it’s a horrible idea. About that, if nothing else, she is at least right.

The trip starts out uneventful enough. The two go to an historic sight, and while being given a tour on a tram, Chris is outraged when he sees another tourist littering – and lets him know. This other man says nothing – simply gives Chris the middle finger, and moves on with his day. Later, in the parking lot, this same man litters again – and Chris backs over him with his caravan – the first of many bloody deaths in Sightseers. This one was at least an accident – but Chris gets a certain degree of satisfaction out of killing the man who made him feel inadequate. There will be more deaths – these ones not so accidental.

In the early stages of Sightseers, you may well find yourself relating to these two people. They are beaten down by life and in desperate need of a vacation – aren’t we all? And, in our darker moments, who hasn’t dreamed of killing someone just for being rude? That is what makes Sightseers so effective – that these two start off so normal. But with each passing murder, their justification for committing it becomes less and less – they start with the guy being rude, then move onto someone who makes them feel inadequate, and by the third death, they are killing someone for doing almost precisely what they did to the rude guy at the start. After that, it practically becomes a free-for-all. And surprisingly, it is Tina who really lets go – killing people for no reason at all, much to the chagrin of Chris. When he says to her “I’ve killed more people with you in 3 days than I did in the six months since I was made redundant” – telling, the only part she responds to is that he was made redundant (he had told her he was on sabbatical) – and not that he basically just confessed to being a serial killer, which breezes by her – and the audience – so quickly, and is never remarked on again. By this point, there’s no turning back.

The two lead performances in the movie are excellent. Oram and Lowe worked with director Wheatley to write the screenplay based on Wheatley’s original idea. As such, they were able to mold their characters to be an almost perfect fit for them. The two wouldn’t look out of place in a working class Mike Leigh drama. Lowe in particular is brilliant, as she radically transforms from the meek, beaten down woman we meet at the beginning of the film, into the more gleefully sociopathic of the pair – and she makes the transformation feel natural.

As I mentioned off the top, Sightseers is not quite the film that Kill List was – that film was far more ambitious a project than Sightseers. And yet, Sightseers does confirm Wheatley as a director to watch. Both films start slow, and then gradually twist and turn themselves into something far more than we anticipated when it started. If your taste in comedy runs pitch black, than Sightseers is for you.

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