Release date: March 25th, 2013
Running time: 88 minutes
Director: Ben Wheatley
Writers: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram
Cast: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram
Do you hate litterbugs? What about people who look down on you? Have you ever felt a murderous rage coming on when someone does something to annoy you? I know I have. Here’s a quick list of things that make me want to turn into a psychopathic killer: people using their phones in the cinema; people who talk through films; people who arrive late and take an age to find seats; people who munch popcorn loudly and rustle wrappers incessantly. Not all my peeves are related to watching films but most are. When I’m seeing the sights up on screen, it’s best not to distract me. Others like me might find much to relate to in Ben Wheatley’s new serial killer comedy Sightseers.
The snapping of ordinary people into merciless killing machines is an increasing trend with the recent God Bless America even featuring a (eerie after the recent events at a Dark Knight Rises screening) scene of slaughter in a cinema when one man loses his patience with obnoxious film watchers. Further back, Falling Down had Michael Douglas flipping out over not being able to get breakfast in a fast food place after 11.30am. Fight Club had a whole generation of angry, emasculated men lashing out at the society that they feel oppressed by. It’s into this cinematic history that a modern day British Bonnie and Clyde step in Sightseers.
Following divisive hit-men horror Kill List, Ben Wheatley creates another genre straddling British film, this time producing shocks but also guffaws in equal measure. Sightseers has comically quirky killer characters and a very sick sense of humour, producing plenty of guilty laughs.
Chris (Steve Oram) seems a nice, mild-mannered man at first. He is pleasant to his girlfriend Tina (Alice Lowe), has many interests including writing, visiting museums and going for long walks in the countryside and has one of those friendly Birmingham accents that make him appear harmless. However Chris is a ball of bottled up rage. He’s not a man to be crossed or messed with as his victims will soon discover. His furry face, woolly jumpers and anorak gives off the impression of calm and cuddly but this is where the brilliance of director Ben Wheatley’s film lies.
Tina lives at home with her overbearing mother and is invited to spend a week away with her bearded beau Chris. Like so many other unstable psychopaths, Tina’s problems no doubt stem in no small part from her awful mother’s manner. Blaming Tina for the death of their beloved dog Poppy one year previous, the early scenes with Tina’s mother are unbearably real and simultaneously a bit over the top and have us immediately sympathising with the sad and sweet Tina and wishing her the best on her travels with Chris.
The natural born killers start off sensibly on their dream caravan holiday to Yorkshire, taking in the local sights of Tram and Pencil Museums but Chris is soon driven to murder after the litter bugs and posh do-gooders become too much for him to take. One repeat offender riles Chris so much that he is forced to dispatch him in what could appear to be an accidental way. The next victim’s clearly a killing and the third brings Tina hurtling into complicity with her vicious partner’s actions.
Murdering lovers on the run are nothing new but Wheatley’s genius is in taking genre conventions and pumping them full of dreary British realism. Chris’ reasons for his anger and resentment of others in society are revealed to be timely and socially relevant. Tina’s relationship with her mother could have come from any number of ‘serial killer with an overbearing mother’ films from Psycho to Human Centipede 2 but the early scenes are invested with such a sense of believably boring tension that they seem far removed from anything seen before.
The best thing about the film isn’t the beautiful (if a little wet and miserable) sights to be seen but the incredibly well realised characters of Chris and Tina and the wonderful performances of Oram and Lowe. These two sad-sacks are utterly believable with Tina being a particular revelation as the film’s story unfolds. Starting out meek and needy, by the end Tina is the character that is the most joy to watch as she emerges from her shell, leading to an absolutely divine and hysterical final scene that will have you laughing long through the credits.
The music is also a wonderful collection of perfectly picked hits such as Soft Cell’s Tainted Love and Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s The Power of Love. These songs amongst others hilariously comment on the on screen action particularly the use of The Power of Love in the final scene and also give the film a slightly stuck in the 80s nostalgic feel.
Chris and Tina seem like a perfectly matched couple but it’s when cracks start to show that Tina starts to emerge as the most fun and terrifying character. While their love blossoms from caravan rocking sex and knitted lingerie, jealousy also blooms when Tina feels Chris might be slipping away. Gender stereotypes are played on as we see Chris’ killings stem from anger while Tina’s stem from jealousy. Tina becomes more manipulative and more psychotic as she feels threatened by other people stealing Chris away.
There are also moments suggesting class struggle with Chris picking out two posh victims; one a writer and the other a ‘Daily Mail’ reader. Chris’s rage runs deeper than just these two men though. It’s clear that he resents the unfairness in a society that picks on the weak, making them redundant and not giving them the breaks they require. However, he’s a man that dreams of becoming a writer but becomes uninspired by his muse. When an unlikely encounter gives him the chance to become a partner in a business, his aspirations leave Tina quickly by the wayside.
Though don’t worry for Tina. Whether it’s witch-like dancing by a camp fire or kicking ‘carapods’ (don’t ask) off cliffs, Alice Lowe delivers a brilliant performance and Tina steals the film from all around her. Sightseers is an excellent serial killer comedy that has lots of laughs, vicious violence and heaps of heart, and all with a killer soundtrack.
Peter is a film and media lecturer and currently writing his PhD thesis on found footage horror movies. This means he must endure all sorts of cinema’s worst drivel in the name of academia. If that wasn’t punishing enough, Peter enjoys watching films with brutal violence, depressing themes and a healthy splash of tragedy.
If Peter isn’t watching films, he is writing about them, talking about them or daydreaming about them. He regularly contributes to Media Magazine and a range of film websites. You can find his film blog at www.ilovethatfilm.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter @ilovethatfilm.