Director: Ben Wheatley.
Starring: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Richard Glover, Eileen Davies.
Run Time: 88 minutes.
Sightseers is the latest film from Brit-film-director-du-jour, Ben Wheatley. The new film from the man that brought us the devastatingly insane Kill List (2011), I had unfairly high hopes for Sightseers, hoping for another darkly comic gem to add to the canon of oddball independent British cinema. Much like Shane Meadows before him (A Room for Romeo Brass, This is England), Wheatley is a director who seems to have appeared behind the lens fully formed, possessing the skills of the greats, and recreating them on a modest budget.
The plot itself also ticks all the boxes: Sex, Murder and Caravans. You feel that sitting down to watch that Sightseers is going to present something a little bit different from what you are used to. This was a film I thought would have a limited ‘Art House’ release, and then be relegated to Tuesday nights on Channel 4. In short, Hollywood it aint.
The film follows impish Tina (Alice Lowe) and bearded Chris (Steve Oram) who embark on a caravanning holiday around England in the early stages of their relationship. Their love is put to the test when it’s revealed that Chris likes to indulge in a bit of murder. It turns out Tina might like it too.
What makes the film really special for me is how Wheatley instils a complete lack of glamour, without it ever becoming dreary. The film is full of vibrancy, whether it’s apparent or not. The dullness of Little England is brought to life. The ‘Kitchen Sink Realism’ of Ken Loach and Mike Leigh (a very British tradition) translates into different genres to great effect in Wheatley’s films, creating something unique and instantly memorable. The scenes are full of chintzy bric-a-brac and clutter, while the characters are kitted out in garishly coloured (and unfashionable) outdoor clothing and frumpy knitted jumpers. 80s pop features prevalently. Little glimpses of escalating madness are hinted at. The very fact that the majority of the audience would derive very little pleasure from Pencil Museums and Tram Parks is precisely what makes them interesting to us. Yes, Wheatley has such skill that he has made caravan holidays interesting.
A film, more often than not, is carried by the performances of the actors. Using relatively unknown TV performers (so unknown I didn’t even realise until I checked IMDB that Alice Lowe starred in the peerless spoof comedy Darkplace), the audience can’t ever know what to expect, as we delve into the lives of our two nutters. Tina and Chris have great chemistry, and their dialogue crackles with real wit and humour suited to their deadpan style of delivery. The treatment of serious crime as a mundane hobby is frankly, a hilarious concept.
The whole film had be bellowing like Max Cady (or Sideshow Bob), and was completely suited to my sense of humour. Like the best dark comedies, the laughs are paced well, not coming too thick and fast, allowing you to savour some of the great lines, or absurd situations. The film should be sinister and the subject matter difficult to digest, but Tina is just so naively innocent and Chris so innocuously dull and normal that you can’t help but forgive their sins (and I won’t lie, root for them). They’re the type of (ahem) harmless oddballs that you can’t help but fall in love with on the screen. Meeting them in real life would be a different story of course, what with all the murder and dubious lifestyle choices, but up there, they’re golden.
The supporting roles are ably filled by Carol, Tina’s mother from hell, who we intermittently see emotionally smothering her daughter with barbed quips and acts of sheer desperation, and Banjo/Poppy the dog, the subject of much guilt and heated debate.
For the first time in a while, I have nothing bad to say about a film! It truly is an early Christmas miracle. I wholeheartedly enjoyed every aspect of Sightseers, and implore you all to go and see it. I had a fucking blast, and the film had real depth and emotion. It’s a film that may not get the press it deserves, but you may as well go and see it now before it achieves its inevitable cult status to add to its critical acclaim (just so you can act like a movie hipster about it). There isn’t long left of what has been a fairly disappointing 2012, but Sightseers has more than made up for it and is definitely a contender for film of the year.
Score: 9 out of 10.
If you liked this, check out: Down Terrace, Kill List, Thirst, Badlands, Natural Born Killers, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz.