Today: February 26, 2024

Sightseers

Ever wondered what would Natural Born Killers would have been like if Mike Leigh had directed it?

Ever
wondered what would Natural Born
Killers would have been like if Mike
Leigh had directed it?
Wonder no longer – Sightseers
is that unlikely movie, and it’s much, much better than you’d expect.

Being a tale of lovers on a cross-country killing
spree, Sightseers could have aped the brash, heavy-handed satirical
approach that Oliver Stone bought to Quentin Tarantino’s script
almost 20 years ago.

Instead, highly-rated Brit director Ben Wheatley
(of Kill List fame) brings a light, Leigh-esque people-everyday touch,
resulting in hugely entertaining black comedy.

Sightseers’ Mickey and Mallory are Chris (Steve
Oram
) and Tina (Amy Jump) – he a heavily-bearded fantasist; she a
quietly desperate 30-something living with her controlling mother, Carol (Eileen
Davis
).

To Carol’s obvious displeasure Tina and Chris head
off, caravan in tow, for a gentle holiday exploring some of England’s most
ludicrous tourist destinations – the National Tramway Museum, the Pencil
Museum. This is not a trip undertaken with an ironic eye. This, for Chris, is
living alright.

Belying his gentle taste in days out, Chris is a man
easily riled. At the first stop, the tram museum, an unrepentant litterbug
tests him to breaking point. So he crushes him to death with the caravan. And
so begins the spree.

As it progresses Jump and Oram dovetail fantastically,
their rapport honed through having spent some time taking Tina and Chris around
the comedy circuit.

Wheatley gives them space, meaning what could have
been two stereotyped characters are rounded and sympathetic. Angry Tina veers
from being on the edge to going over the top; ginger-faced Chris is gloriously
misanthropic.

The script, or more specifically the dialouge as it
appears as if most of this is ad-libbed, helps make Sightseers such a
satisfying film. Chris and Tina met at capoeira; he used to work in plastic moulding
– the little details easily reveal a humdrum back story.

Sightseers fills out its 88 minutes. Not a scene is
wasted, nor a bum note struck.

Back at home Davis is fabulously passive-aggressive as
the needy Carol, her shadow falling on Tina even at a distance.

All the supporting characters, who are mostly victims,
are beautifully drawn. The litterbug who suffers mortis ex caravana; a
smug middle-class ley-line researcher dispatched on a hill; a hen night
screecher tipped over a bridge. None appear for longer than a few minutes; all
are detailed enough to make them familiar and engaging.

As our heroes progress on their blood-soaked odyssey,
Tina’s initial shock and uncertainty at Chris’s sociopathic tendencies
transform into enthusiastic involvement. This threatens Chris, who feels Tina
is unqualified and her approach is scattergun, and the dynamic between the two
undergoes a subtle change before a denouement that makes this perfectly clear.

Black comedies are a difficult act – too far one way
and it’s all comedy and no darkness; the other way lies too much black and no
chuckles. Wheatley successfully treads this fine line. Sightseers could have easily
have been bloody and unfunny; instead, happily, it’s bloody funny.

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