After only two films – cul-de-sac gangster comedy Down Terrace and the horror mindfuck Kill List – British filmmaker Ben Wheatley has quickly developed a remarkable talent for taking well-versed sardonic British humour and subjecting it to abuse under the weight of grim storylines. For a mean-spirited bastard like me, I’ve relished seeing my native pastures hung out to dry and tormented, and his latest film Sightseers is no let-up. A dysfunctional rom-com road movie, it makes you squirm and swoon in equal measure.
Celebrating their three month anniversary, aspiring novelist Chris (Steve Oram) takes his dimwitted girlfriend Tina (Alice Lowe) away on a lovely caravanning holiday across rainy, pastoral England. They spend their time visiting such world renowned attractions as The Blue John Cavern in Derby and the Keswick pencil museum by day, returning for steamy, constrictive mobile-home sex by night. It’s an odd couple, but it’s no doubt that they are head over wheels in love. A love which is tested when the quaint travel across England turns into a bloody summer holiday. Some couples play scrabble, Tina and Chris kill people.
Whilst Ben Wheatley and regular DP Laurie Rose certainly have creative license on the look and macabre tone of the film, a great deal of Sightseers depth, and even heart, naturally emerges from the collaboration between lead players Oram and Lowe. Spending five years nurturing these characters through stage shows, sketches and a TV pilot, they disappear into the characters, and have a fantastically effervescent chemistry together; expressionless Oram perfectly matched with Lowe’s jittery energy.
The characters complete each other – Tina is the softly spoken, mumsy type with a little sadistic side, and Chris is the the lonesome renegade, sickened by the lack of civility he sees in modern society, where people litter in public spots and have an unearned sense of entitlement. Instead of that overzealous, ever so British mantra ‘Keep calm and carry on’, calculative Chris just can’t help but carry on and keep killing, with the doting Tina right at his side.
At 88 minutes, it’s an enthralling watch throughout, just when the joke wears thin, Wheatley surprises us with a brilliantly blunt finish. A collaborative effort with just enough grizzly violence matched with romantic light touches and huge belly laughs. Some excellently tongue-in-cheek use of Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’, to boot. I worry that Sightseers will be remembered as Bonnie & Clyde meets Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May. Beyond the boundaries of that gimmick is the best British film of the year.