Sightseers is a twisted British road movie that defies genre classification with erratic tonal changes. It is a genuinely hilarious black comedy at times, but then it takes unsavoury turns into psychotic serial killer thriller territory. Often the blend of situation-humour mixed with the duo’s sickening actions rubbed me the wrong way and my initial reaction was a state of confusion. It has taken some processing to arrive at a concrete opinion. It is a fatiguing adventure, one that takes surprising twists and turns that are just as inconsistent as the character’s motivations and attitudes. Caravanning couple Tina (Alice Lowe), an ordinary sheltered suburbanite, and Chris (Steve Oram), a ginger bearded adventurer and wannabe writer, go on a trip to see the Northern England she’s been missing. When Tina gets an insight into Chris’ anger the holiday turns from picturesque to grotesque.
The humour is dark and often dialogue-driven, which is a testament to Lowe and Oram's writing. The performances are effective; underplayed but shaping naturalistic and believable characters. It soon becomes evident that Chris is not a writer and while Tina might be his muse, it is certainly not in the writing department. When he unleashes his inner-psychopath at the rude, antisocial behaviour they cross paths with in the mountains, Tina becomes more than just an accepting accomplice.
Sightseers is a film that I think will work better with the British than an international audience. Some viewers will certainly feel queasy and feel guilty for laughing. It was not a film I particularly enjoyed, and after drawing out the narrative by returning to Tina’s mother’s place on occasions, the ending is quite rushed. There are some terrific moments but the ideas dry up when Chris and Tina reach the middle of nowhere. It’s an inconsistent film, but one not easy to forget. The comedic timing between the lead pair is excellent but our sympathies, when present, shift uneasily between them. Often the humour is competing with the prior establishment of ill feeling.
Director Ben Wheatley is a man who has a bold, unique vision and exuberant confidence. If it wasn’t already proven with 'Down Terrace' and 'Kill List' there are no evident boundaries to his approach to filmmaking. He has an unflinching eye for brutal, bloodthirsty violence, and an uncanny ability to build a morbid atmosphere. Some striking visuals, effective musical choices and a ballsy ending ultimately result in my tepid admiration for the film.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Directed by: Ben Wheatley
Written by: Alice Lowe and Steve Oram
Starring: Alice Lowe and Steve Oram
Sightseers, distributed through Rialto Films, is scheduled for a cinema release on Boxing Day
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.