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After turning out a seedy, brutal, genre bender of a horror film like “Kill List,” the obvious next move is to make a romantic road trip comedy, right? It is if you’re British director Ben Wheatley. That guy is a straight up lunatic. I’m never sure what he’s going to turn out next, but I always want to see it. And given his established sensibilities, this isn’t your standard take on the matter at hand. All the comedy in his latest offering, “Sightseers,” is dark, pitch fucking black to be precise. The film is a violent, hallucinatory Bonnie and Clyde story, tracing two youngish lovers on a gory rampage across the countryside. This film just proves once again, that, not only is Wheatley someone to keep an eye on, but that he has zero regard for convention.
The lovers in question are Tina (Alice Low) and Chris (Steve Oram)—both actors collaborated on the script. They’ve been dating three months, and decide to go on holiday together, shuffling around the countryside in a caravan—that’s British code for a trailer or camper—crashing at campgrounds, visiting scintillating, stimulating tourist spots, like a pencil museum. From this simple set up, it doesn’t take long for things start to get complicated as corpses begin to pile up around the pair.
Both Tina and Chris are meek, and have been pushed around and bullied their entire lives. For Tina it’s her mother, an unpleasant, bitter old wretch who drops piles of guilt on Tina’s shoulders at every turn. As a result, Tina is stunted and childlike. She whines and pouts and throws fits, storming around very much like a petulant teen. Chris is soft and weak, one of those people that the world takes advantage of and just shits on, so submissive and acquiescent that you just want to take his stuff because you can. He’s also the kind of guy that, when he sees even a minor wrongdoing, say a guy tossing his ice cream wrapper on the ground, dwells about it, seething on the inside, wishing he was able to do something, anything.
When Chris accidentally backs their rig over one of these offenders, something breaks loose inside of him, and he discovers how to exert his will on the world around him. He develops a taste for rebellion, and takes Tina along with him. Knocking an asshole’s plate on the ground sends them into a sexual frenzy—Tina knits her own crotchless underwear by the way. After years of being inert and powerless, they finally have a way to claim something, to reach out and grab what they want. Chris has a bit of a code when it comes to murder, there must be some reason, some offense given, even as miniscule as a man asking Tina to clean up her dog’s shit, but there is cause. In opposition to Chris’ measured, logical (as far as it is) approach, Tina represents chaos, randomly spewing violence and murder in whatever direction suits her momentary whims. You can imagine this situation leads to interrelationship tension.
This doesn’t exactly sound like a comedy, does it? But in Wheatley’s maverick hands, you laugh your ass off. You probably shouldn’t, because you’re witnessing horrible, heinous acts, but goddamn if “Sightseers” isn’t funny and witty at the same time it’s dark and twisted. Though this most definitely combines horror and comedy, it never feels like something that basic. In reality, it has the distinct appearance and feel of a comedy; you never particularly think, I’m watching a horror movie, even as people die all over the place. Though the horror is front and center, it feels causal, like an aside. The horrendous acts are so out of place and over the top that there’s an interesting disconnect within the film, which never deigns to judge either of the main characters.
“Sightseers” is weird, dark, and delightful, a truly strange and exciting combination. You’ll definitely need a tolerance for gore and dark thoughts going in. It isn’t for everyone, but those of you with an adventurous soul, should fare well. Sharp humor, black comedy, intriguing characters, “Sightseers” has a little of everything to satisfy everyone. The tone and story slip elegantly from light and fluffy to brutal and sinister. Emotion and loyalty are tested and shift, and “Sightseers” keeps you guessing and puzzling until the very end.
Ben Wheatley (director)/Alice Low (writer)/Steve Oram (writer)
CAST: Alice Low…Tina