I guess you could call Sightseers, the little British film about a couple on a vacation in an RV, a dark comedy. Emphasis on dark, de-emphasis on comedy. I imagine the ideal audience for this film being drunken art house filmgoers at a midnight show with a taste for gore, deadpan observations and sadism.
Directed by Ben Wheatley and co-written by stars Steve Oram and Alice Lowe (with additional material by Amy Jump), Sightseers tells the story of Chris (Oram) and Tina (Lowe), a pair of losers who have started dating a few months before and now are going on a week long ‘caravan’ together to Britain’s lesser tourist attractions.
Sightseers would fit comfortably on a rampage-film double bill with God Bless America or Falling Down. To play it with Thelma & Louise or A Clockwork Orange would just expose how unredeeming it is compared to the better examples of the genre.
While the film’s amorality rankled me, I have to acknowledge the performances of these leads. They are utterly believable as put-upon schmos who release their petty resentments via homicide. I would like nothing more than to spoil this sick film, but unlike these characters, I do have some compunctions. So… spoilers ahead.
The killings in Sightseers start small, with an accidental (or subconsciously-motivated) traffic fatality. Chris backs over a man he’s seen littering multiple times at their first stop, a trolley-themed amusement park. Once he’s felt the power of killing, Chris soon gets out of hand, viciously bludgeoning a yuppy author and then a rambler who demands Tina clean up after her dog (which they’ve stolen). Rather than react normally to Chris’ aggression, Tina joins him, eventually out-doing him in sheer psychosis.
The final moment of the film suggested to me that the filmmakers believe women, and not men, are the real murderers in society, mostly operating via manipulation of the Y side. For a movie this misogynistic, I was surprised to see so many female names in the credits. Perhaps everyone involved just thought they were being edgy, rather than trolling?
The camerawork is serviceable but benefits from well-chosen odd locations and props. The soundtrack relies too heavily on Donovan singing “Season of the Witch” — Donovan was already put to much better use in the serial killer movie Zodiac, with “Hurdy Gurdy Man” underscoring a brutal attack. Editing is intentionally elliptical and fractured, giving the film a more documentary feel but making it much more difficult to get into the story.
If anyone tells you they enjoyed this film, I would consider them seriously disturbed. Considering this film played at Sundance, Cannes and Toronto, I’m starting to doubt the sanity of top festival programmers.
Sightseers opens May 10 at Landmark’s Sunshine Cinema in New York and Landmark’s Nuart Theatre in West L.A.