Film Review: Sightseers
In what has arrived as a British Natural Born Killers via Withnail and I, Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers is an off-the-wall, intriguing English gem that is not for the faint hearted. Richard Curtis films portray a foreigner’s Britain – with all the twee and charming aspects of quaint little England accentuated by the whimsical Hugh Grant. Wheatley gives us an all-too familiar grey, bleak vision with rain, mud and all those well-known British everyday characters we love to hate: snobbish couples, loud groups of teenage girls, uppity busybodies. This dismal outlook is juxtaposed with some of England’s most gorgeous landscapes and quirky locations (such as the Keswick Pencil Museum), all lovingly captured in various embarrassing situational comedy sequences to create a film that all Brits can instantly relate to.
Tina (Alice Lowe) is a sheltered woman in her mid thirties who longs to live life, and new boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram) can show her the world. These two are a revelation in British comedy giving incredible performances, and their collaboration in writing Sightseers is reflected in their powerful chemistry as Tina and Chris – both absolutely in love, yet they sometimes seem to furiously hate one-another. Lowe is gives a fantastic deadpan portrayal of Tina with her hilarious humdrum observations: “Yorkshire is lovely, not like you said at all. They can smile and they do sell my pasta sauce” she writes to her mothers, and upon hearing of the death of a tourist who apparently slipped off a tall rocky edge she determines “that’s why I’d never have stone flooring”. Oram also gives a brilliant performance as a man trying to reinvent himself with Tina, wanting to be something better but is not all he claims to be. His unhinged character is a delight to watch. Chris embarks with Tina on an idyllic caravan trip through his favourite sites, but the dream quickly turns into a nightmare as events – someone dropping litter in a heritage site, meeting a snooty successful couple – conspire to ruin the holiday for him.
Tina’s overbearing mum Carol (Eileen Davis) doesn’t trust Chris, and perhaps with good reason. In Little Red Riding Hood-esque cautionary style, Chris shows Tina his world – seemingly pleasant one minute, passionate the next, then quickly snapping into violence. In a knowing nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Chris lets out a prolonged roar after letting loose on a ‘Daily Mail reader’ – devolving and breaking down as a man to primal rage. But in a deliciously interesting twist to the tale, Chris has apparently unlocked something in Tina (and not just sexual passion) that causes her to transform into a fiery – but dangerous – woman.
The humour is not for everybody – the typical nerve-racking embarrassing situation comedy is punctuated by heavy violence and very dark humour. But if this is your taste, it’s clever and shocking enough to have you laughing throughout. The latter half of the film tends to lose the balance of comedy and darkness (descending into nightmarish seriousness) and lacks the strength of its first half, but offers a complete twist at the end that many won’t see coming and will leave you absolutely flabbergasted as the credits roll.
The situations are accentuated by a great choice of soundtrack: the romantic tones of Françoise Hardy juxtaposed with the vulgar sight of a rocking caravan in a lay-by, the caravan club DJ favourites like Soft Cell’s Tainted Love (that feels all too appropriate for our anti-hero lovers) and the inclusion of psychedelic Sixties rock like Season of the Witch that highlights Tina’s metamorphosis into a sexually passionate (and frustrated), dangerous woman.
With great writing, brilliant performances, an inspired soundtrack and some gorgeous filmmaking (with bleak blue hues and a strong depth of field highlighted in a wonderful slow-motion shot of Tina and Chris turning to face the camera), Sightseers definitely comes highly recommended – but perhaps not one to take your mum to see.