Sightseers – Ben Wheatley – I haven’t smiled, nay beamed, so uncontrollably in the cinema for a long time! The rare example of a film that, after looking forward to, delivered everything I had hoped it would, without the slightest shade of disappointment. Which is probably an unnerving reflection of my decidedly warped sense of humour. This is a black comedy of menacing and hilarious energy; at once disturbed, daft and deliriously brutal. It incorporates moments of great slapstick visual humour (after visiting a pencil museum…an attraction that most obscure British hotels seem to advertise in the, ever present, wondrous rack of pamphlets. Somewhere between Monkey-World, Caving and a local Owl sanctuary, behold: the inevitable pencil museum) Tina is shown writing a poignant letter home…with a novelty huge pencil.
Before I gregariously warble on with plaudits aplenty, to retrace: Sightseers is the story of an endearingly dysfunctional, outsider couple (‘Tina’ and ‘Chris’) that go on a caravan holiday, which leads them both into a plummeting relationship of casual homicide. Drizzly weather, anoraks, national trust walks – and a trail of bodies. While comparisons have been made to Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May, I was more struck with the narrative affinity with the extended episode of British comedy, Green Wing. In an extended episode (I think it was the extended one) two of the more eccentric characters (the genius, stuttering maniac that is Dr. Statham…and his harrowingly compatible partner Joanna Claw – a terrific role that explodes the bitter comedy of ageing) are on the run from the law…in a caravan…and end up killing (accidently) lots of unsuspecting civilians, before (like Sightseers) eventually burning the caravan. Whether a conscious influence or not, I love both unreservedly.
In gleeful harmony with Wheatley’s romantic oddball tale of serial killers, is the soundtrack: with witty use of the classic ‘Tainted Love’ and a collection of genuinely interesting, more obscure pieces, the soundtrack is a accomplished beast in and of itself. The script is inventive, bizarre and consistently very funny – drawing on both Alice Lowe and Steve Oram’s evident natural chemistry. One moment early on in the film,Chris reflects with sensitive vulnerability: ‘I was invisible at school’, to which Tina replies: ‘but your ginger’. Another brilliant moment arrives after we witness the caravan vigorously shaking with seismic force, squeaking back and forth on the quiet roadside - during a session of urgent sexual grunting and pornographic pounding. Soon after, Tina relates to her mother with cooing nostalgia that Chris is ‘a sensitive lover’.
Building on the visceral violence and intensity of Kill List, the film does not hold back in its moments of darkness. At one point Chris bludgeons the skull of an innocent man, who simply had a problem with canine defecation, into an unrecognisable pulp. All of which occurs with a voiceover reading Blake’s ‘Jerusalem’, as if battering British heritage into a mock-heroic wreckage of caravan sex, dull tourist attractions, bad weather and impulsive murder. From its comical prologue to the fittingly extreme conclusion, this is a stunning and thoroughly twisted triumph of comedy! 9/10