Written by: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, and Amy Jump.
Starring: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram
Dark, dark, dark. But quite funny. But soooo dark. Those are the two adjectives I would use to describe Ben Wheatley's SIGHTSEERS, a black comedy about two seemingly normal people on holiday that takes a dark turn. Chris and Tina, who after being together for a few months, decide to go caravanning and see the endless tourist traps of middle England. The mood is set eerily when Chris, a pleasant enough man with a massive ginger beard picks up Tina from her mother's house. The mother, a woman who is either desperate for attention, or suffering from dementia, or perhaps a little of both, is immediately suspicious of Chris. Does she get a strange feeling from him or is she just angry that he is taking her daughter away from her? But off they go anyways, and we quickly realize that Chris has a temper, and there is something much more profound and menacing going on beneath his cold eyes and red Gortex jacket. Despite his temper, we never fear for Tina. She has an innocence and a naivety that will protect her through the whole trip. They're also "in love" and Chris will do anything to "protect" her. Even a random murder. And so goes SIGHTSEERS. If you watch the trailer you will realize I am not spoiling the film by telling you that Chris and Tina commit a few casual murders as they make their way from historic Tram line to Druid stone circle to Pencil Museum, along the way meeting unfriendly and callous people who only stoke the dark furnace that burns within Chris.
If pressed for more adjectives I would add beautiful, melancholy, eerie, moving, and sad. Firstly, the cinematography is gorgeous. The landscape, as manicured as rural England is, is beautifully shot with many cutaways to geological features, weather, streams, and plants. Much of it reflects how our characters feel; lonely, lost, confused. Roiling storm clouds reflect their inner minds. They stare down into the swirling foam of a slowly moving stream before Chris says he can't look at it anymore, why? Because it reminds him how lost and confused he is? Because he can't make sense of what he sees? By the time we reach the climax, they have made their way through lush southern England up into the northern Highlands and park their caravan precariously on the edge of a shale cliff. They've truly gone into a cold and hostile place, far from any other human contact. And this is why the film is melancholy. Despite their normal exteriors, both Chris and Tina are deeply problematic. Both, surely, have undiagnosed issues, and have dangerously found enablers in each other. Chris says he is taking a sabbatical and wants to write a book, and Tina is his muse. But what form of inspiration will this muse inspire in him? On top of being misunderstood, Chris seems to be an anachronism, a man out of his own time. A slow motion shot of him yelling and holding a wooden club above his head seems to be a direct reference to a shot from the prologue of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY: apes discover they can use tools to conquer their enemies, and one screams victoriously upon vanquishing a rival. Chris, big red beard and all, either belongs in prehistoric or middle ages as some sort of primal brute, both for his nonchalant use of violence, but also his simple and undeveloped mind, which swings between moods as much as a young child's does who does not get what he wants.
Ben Wheatley previously directed the critically acclaimed KILL LIST (2011), which I have never worked up the courage to see. Apparently, it is quite the mystery story, but with splashes of terrifying violence, and a twist ending to give you nightmares for weeks. I was apprehensive about watching SIGHTSEERS, but if you have seen any of Edgar Wright's films (who is an executive producer on this film) such as SHAUN OF THE DEAD or HOT FUZZ it is more along those lines of humour and violence, with an extra layer of eeriness.
On the whole, I'm not sure I would recommend this film to everyone, but I think most people can take some enjoyment from it. It certainly is a very dark comedy, and if you have the stomach for some flashes of DRIVE-style gore, then the payoff is a strange, often funny, and beautiful holiday around the countryside with two in-love misfits with a penchant for a bit of the ultraviolence.