Sightseers Film Review
Last year’s brilliantly uncomfortable Kill List proved Ben Wheatley’s directorial credentials at constructing a slow-burning atmospheric thriller the likes of which has not been produced in British cinema since The Wicker Man. Elements of this are clearly present in his new film, which brings together Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) as they escape to a Britain that is at once easy to recognise; one filled with heritage sites, pencil museums and natural wonders often forgotten.
The film begins with Tina and her complicated relationship with her domineering mother, whose constant need for attention has clearly been the controlling factor in Tina’s life. Wheatley’s early focus on her almost forced domesticity is brought into sharp focus thanks to his great attention to detail, and sets the scene for boyfriend Chris’s arrival, whose caravan promises much needed freedom.
As they take to the road, the eccentric pair share an appreciation for vintage British culture, bringing them both physically and emotionally closer than their three month relationship would suggest (as Chris explains: “If the caravan’s a rockin’, don’t come a knockin’”). However, following the possibly not-so-accidental death of an inconsiderate litterer, events transpire to give their simple sightseeing holiday a more violent twist. As the bodies pile up (in an exceptionally gory fashion), the question is whether or not the couple will find their happy ever after; one that is handled well throughout, never giving away the answer.
Scripted by both Lowe and her co-star Steve Oram, it is difficult to argue that the humor of Sightseers is anything but hilarious, with laughs provided throughout. The two stars give wonderful performances that perfectly construct the loveable yet potentially dangerous pair, and their relationship is for the most part convincing.
On the other side of this comedy, Sightseers still provides the broiling tension that has come to be expected from its director, as Wheatley deftly engineers an eerie and disquieting atmosphere to accompany the sunlight vastness of the English countryside. However, issues often arise when comedy and elements of horror are combined, and this film is no different.
Whilst both aspects are pulled off well, their combination does not always elicit a desirable effect, shifting the film’s progress back and forth in a confused manner. As the simmering atmosphere is hyped up, the enjoyably blunt and naturalistic comedy remains very much on the same level, almost as though it was not intended to serve any real purpose. Of course, it provides an insight into the characters’ thinking, as well as endowing them with a loveably simple mindset, yet it seems to run out of ideas and serves to reduce the fine work of Wheatley’s tension-fuelled directorial style.
Therefore, thanks to this mix of comedy and tense horror components, Sightseers cannot compete with the confident focus, nor mysterious attraction, of Kill List. Where that film was enigmatic and gripping, this seems a much more sedate and obvious affair. It still provides laughs and asks some interesting questions, but fails to impress in the way that Wheatley’s previous work did so effortlessly. Even so, Lowe and Oram are loveably naturalistic in their relationship and provide enjoyable company for the film’s sensible running time.