Sightseers: Film review

By Steve Bennett

Sightseers is a very English take on the ‘misfit lovers become serial killers’ movie. Out go the long shots of endless American highways, in comes the winding roads and perpetual drizzle of the Dales. It’s Mike Leigh meets Natural Born Killers.

Chris and Tina are a seemingly dreary if well-meaning Stourbridge couple, taking their Abbey Oxford caravan out on a sightseeing trip to the likes of the Keswick Pencil Museum and the Ribblehead Viaduct. There’s a touch of Steve Coogan’s Saxondale in here, too, as they enjoy a vibrant sex life at odds with their boring exterior; but they soon discover a shared passion for bloodshed, too.

Chris, to put it mildly, does not take well to criticism – indeed he prefers the company of trees to humans as they don’t ‘belittle his five-year plan’. He has to bite his tongue when it’s Tina’s appalling mother doling out the viciously emasculating comments, but when it’s some supercilious middle-class do-gooder, he feels compelled to act. Murder makes him feel powerful, but when Tina wants to join in with her amour’s hobby, he begins to feel she’s intruding on ‘his’ thing.

There’s a caravan-full of mordant, offbeat wit running through this black comedy, director Ben Wheatley shattering the deadpan tone with the occasional short outburst of gruesome violence. The humour may be as underplayed as the beige and grey ambience, but it still includes plenty of laugh-out-loud moments as the script – written by the stars Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, stalwarts of the sketch comedy circuit – is full of unexpected turns and dryly funny one-liners.

Their characters are well-drawn, believable and nuanced, with the relationship between Chris and Tina showing an instinctive chemistry that grounds a plot that might otherwise have snowballed into broad farce in less confident hands. We are laughing at their small-world outlook, but they remain empathetic and likable, even throughout their slayings.

Manipulative mum, as played by Eileen Davies, is a brilliantly nasty comic creations, while another live comedy favourite, Richard Glover, pops up as a fellow anorak-wearing camper, all mild-mannered awkwardness with his bicycle-drawn sleeping pod.

He appears at a point where the story hits a plateau – when the contrast between bleak countryside and ultra-violence has been well-established – yet his encounters with the anti-heroes aren’t quite enough to provide fresh momentum when it’s needed. Nonetheless, the film climaxes with a brilliant final scene that intensifies the shock and the comedy of the previous 88 minutes in one memorable shot.

This should make stars of Oram and Lowe – previously best known for her work on Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace – but for a debut, it’s their writing that’s intriguing. Even though it’s slightly flawed, it has to a contender for the best British comedy film of the year. Sorry, Keith Lemon.

  • Sightseers is in cinemas from Friday

Published: 28 Nov 2012

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