Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) take a longed-for caravanning holiday together in Yorkshire. Events soon conspire against the couple and their romantic freedom morphs into into something else: a strange and sociopathic taste for violence.
CANBERRA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: British writer-director Ben Wheatley delivers on the promise of his unusual, if flawed, quasi-horror feature Kill List in this wickedly black comedy about a homicidal couple on a camping trip.
it’s often gut-bustingly funny
Wheatley’s method in his last film was to follow a group of characters through three acts, each of which inhabited a different genre – domestic drama, crime thriller and finally, Gothic British horror. The vastly contrasting episodes never quite added up to a satisfying experience, but the filmmaker’s attention to strong acting and inspired casting made it at the very least an interesting failure.
Sightseers is similarly bold in putting together different film traditions – this time, serial killer road movie and quirky British character comedy – but they’re blended organically.
First up it seems the story about a couple escaping from the woman’s whining mother by taking a camping trip is an entry in the Mike Leigh book of eccentric British tragi-comedy. Indeed the obvious inspiration for at least part of the plot is Leigh’s classic BBC telemovie, Nuts in May, in which an obnoxiously self-satisfied pair of vegetarians fell foul of their campsite neighbours.
To this scenario the film adds skull-cracking mayhem to wince-inducing comic effect. (Leigh fans may recognise how well suited this mixture of styles can be from the filmmaker’s 1992 short, A Sense of History, a story about a murderous aristocrat starring and penned by Jim Broadbent.)
Not that we get much of a whiff of violence to start with. Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram) are classic Leigh-style suburbanites with a quirky English taste for the surrealistically banal. Their holiday itinerary takes in a pencil museum, for instance. (Worryingly, this appears to be a real institution and not just the figment of the screenwriters’ imagination.)
The blood-letting starts up when Chris apparently accidentally reverses their caravan over a yob who’d earlier offended his sensibilities by refusing to pick up a piece of litter. On their next stop – a camping site – Keith stoves in an annoying neighbour’s skull when he’s out walking on the cliffs early in the morning. The man’s offence is to be a mildly successful travel writer – whereas Chris appears highly unlikely to ever get down to writing the book he’s told Tina he’s working on. Chris finds it alarmingly easy to bump off anyone who makes him feel inadequate.
Tina takes a while to cotton on to her partner’s ways – despite the fact he steals the dead man’s adorable dog, Banjo, who she instantly adopts and renames Puppy. But when she does, she decides she needs to do something to maintain her potty partner’s respect and discovers a homicidal instinct or two of her own.
A key reason for this film’s success – it’s often gut-bustingly funny – is the perfectly deadpan performances of the leads, Lowe and Oram, who developed the script (with Amy Jump, the director’s wife) from characters they came up while working on a live comedy show with Steve Coogan.
Some readers may recall Coogan took a similar, albeit non-homicidal, road journey across rural Yorkshire in Michael Winterbottom’s teleseries and feature film, The Trip. Who came up with the idea first, I’d rather not venture, but both have distinct comic flavours and are worth the time of day.