I have been a big fan of director Ben Wheatley since his debut, Down Terrace, and for my money he is getting better and better with each film he makes. I understand that Kill List has a strong and loyal following, but that chilling, claustrophobic experience – as successfully rendered as it is – doesn’t produce an enjoyable film-going experience. Wheatley’s third film, however, is huge fun, even as it continues to prod at the dark corners of the human, nay British psyche.
Alice Lowe stars as the neurotic and sheltered thirtysomething, Tina, who has finally been inspired by her caravan-loving new boyfriend, Chris (Steve Oram) to break free of her overbearing mother and set out into the English countryside for a week’s camping holiday. Tina soon discovers that her travelling companion, beyond harbouring aspirations to become a writer, has little patience for the noisy, inconsiderate louts and litterbugs with whom he must share this fair isle. When he does boil over, the results grow increasingly bloody and homicidal.
While at first Tina is understandably shocked by Chris’ actions, it awakens a fire within her, and she begins to grow and evolve, from silent witness to complacent accomplice and before long her hands have been bloodied too.
Based on Lowe and Oram’s stage show of the same name, Sightseers is both hilarious and genuinely frightening, as it picks apart the insecurities and foibles of the British persona and lets them run to their natural – or at the very least, most primal – conclusion. Chris and Tina are not overly likable people, but Oram and Lowe make them real to the extent that viewers may often find themselves siding with them as they berate fellow campers and ramblers who get on their nerves.
Most interesting of all, however, is how the dynamic between Chris and Tina grows and shifts. At first, Tina is miserable, pushed well out of her comfort zone and traumatised both by a guilt-tripping mother back home and the revelation that Chris is not all that he appeared to be. But as she grapples with her issues, Tina finds an inner calm that may yet prove stronger than Chris’ volatile and impulsive temperament.
Wheatley and his collaborators poke gentle fun at the lesser sights to be found in Middle England, but the film is clearly in awe of the country’s natural beauty. Aided immeasurably by Laurie Rose’s incredible cinematography – coupled with an eclectic soundtrack of classic British pop from the 1980s – Sightseers proves much more than just a simple black comedy. It is elevated into a work of art, plain and simple. One of my favourite films of 2012, Sightseers is an absolute gem of contemporary British Cinema that brings a timeless quality to its tale of freedom, love and murder.