After his blisteringly visceral thriller Kill List last year, UK filmmaker Ben Wheatley recently returned to the helm for the pitch black comedy Sightseers, a movie that managed to leave this writer’s jaw on the floor during its stunning conclusion and will most likely make my Top 5 list for 2013 as well. It’s just that damn great and the perfect example of powerful indie storytelling done right.
Sightseers follows new couple, Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram), who are setting out for a road trip through Northern England, the first true test of their blossoming relationship. Throughout their travels, they plan to hit up quaint little landmarks like local museums (GIANT PENCILS!) and kitschy roadside attractions, but soon enough, their trip takes a horribly hilarious detour as Chris' psychotic tendencies reveal themselves. The two become entwined a string of murders along their route, forcing them to confront their feelings for each other and their nihilistic tendencies towards their fellow man.
While Sightseers is definitely a comedy (even a somewhat romantic one at that from time to time), it’s Wheatley approach to the material that gives the film a brutal and often disturbing edge throughout, making it by far one of the more wicked and subversive, yet heartfelt, movies of the year. Wheatley approaches many of Sightseers’ quieter and banal moments with an almost Monty Python-esque aplomb, balancing out the film with just as many laughs as there are grisly and violent murders that the film’s co-stars commit throughout their travels. Wheatley very easily could have played his hand on Sightseers in an entirely different way but smartly decided to go in a completely unusual direction with his story, creating compelling and engaging characters that you want to root for despite their despicable actions.
Ultimately, there is nothing redeeming about Tina and Chris in Sightseers and yet, you can’t help but fall in love with the awkward bloodthirsty duo simply because somehow, they work and that’s entirely due to the onscreen chemistry of both Lowe and Oram. The pair also co-wrote the script together which only helped them in their masterful approach in capturing the cheery malevolence simmering below the surface in both their characters early on. Oram is spot on with bringing Chris’ inhumanity and oafishness towards life and Lowe’s ability to go from child-like gullibility to murderous contempt in a blink of an eye demonstrates the actress’s tremendous talent. In fact, both leads in Sightseers are extraordinary with their execution of timing and exaggerated responses, making Wheatley’s burden of balancing the tone on Sightseers much easier as both performances hit just the right beats of macabre, emotion and everyday banality.
Sightseers is everything you could want from a dark comedy infused with horror and is by far Wheatley’s most assured work to date. It’s not necessarily going to be a movie for everyone, but if you appreciate the gonzo-esque qualities of films like Natural Born Killers and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, Sightseers has exactly what you’re looking for. With a classic pop infused soundtrack, stunning locations and two lovable psychos to take us along on Wheatley’s demented journey through Northern England, Sightseers could very well be the best comedy of this year and by far one of the best times you’ll have laughing at the misfortunes of others. Sightseers also firmly establishes Wheatley as a must-see director by delivering one of the most dastardly love stories ever committed to the big screen and I personally cannot wait to see what he’s got up his demented sleeve for his next outing.
Film Score: 4/5