So­ciopaths at play

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film - Stephen Romei

(MA15+) ★★✩✩✩ Lim­ited re­lease NE of the chal­lenges of writ­ing about movies is balancing your per­sonal taste with the obli­ga­tion to give ev­ery film a fair go. This is es­pe­cially im­por­tant with films you dis­like, a fact I have up­per­most in mind as we speak.

Sight­seers is the third film from emerg­ing 40-year-old Bri­tish di­rec­tor Ben Wheat­ley. His pre­vi­ous features, crime drama Down Ter­race (2009) and hor­ror flick Kill List (2011) were well re­ceived: in­deed I have seen the word ‘‘ ge­nius’’ at­tached to his named in Bri­tish me­dia dis­patches.

I knew noth­ing about Sight­seers be­fore watch­ing it. As it opens we seem to be in Mike Leigh ter­ri­tory: scenes of des­per­ate do­mes­tic­ity in some drab part of Bri­tain. We meet Tina (Alice Lowe), a still-young woman liv­ing with her dis­ap­pointed and re­sent­ful wid­owed mother (Eileen Davies, in the best per­for­mance of the film). ‘‘ You’re not a friend,’’ mum tells her at one point, ‘‘ you’re just a rel­a­tive.’’

Tina loves dogs and knit­ting. And she does have a friend: a new beau named Chris (Steve Oram). He’s a big, calm, gin­ger-bearded bloke and when he in­vites her to join him on a car­a­van­ning hol­i­day through the West Mid­lands, she doesn’t wait around to kiss mum good­bye.

With this the ac­tion proper starts, and it’s soon ap­par­ent the Mike Leigh pro­duc­tion we are clos­est to is his 1976 BBC tele­movie about a camp­ing hol­i­day that turns vi­o­lent, Nuts in May.

The uh-oh moment comes when Chris and Tina visit the Na­tional Tramway Mu­seum in Crich. They are rid­ing on a tram, lis­ten­ing to the tour guide, when Chris no­tices an­other tourist drop a choco­late wrap­per on the floor. He asks him to pick it up and is flipped the fin­ger.

When Chris next spots the rude lit­ter­bug it’s in the carpark, and he re­verses the car­a­van over him.

Yes, Chris is a killer. A se­rial killer, in fact: his next vic­tim is an­other car­a­van­ner who is slightly snooty to him, then there’s the hiker who asks Tina to pick up her dog’s poo . . . and so it goes. Far from be­ing hor­ri­fied, Tina be­comes an en­thu­si­as­tic ac­com­plice. Think Nat­u­ral Born Campers.

The Bri­tish have a rich tra­di­tion of black come­dies, films that make death and even mur­der a laugh­ing mat­ter. In re­cent times Guy Ritchie has had some some success do­ing just that in vi­o­lent but funny gang­ster ca­pers such as Snatch and Lock, Stock and Two Smok­ing Bar­rels.

In­ter­est­ingly, Sight­seers’s two leads, Lowe and Oram, who wrote the script, say they were in­spired by With­nail & I, one of the fun­ni­est films yet made, though one that is homi­cide­free if me­mory serves cor­rectly.

And here we come to my prob­lem with this film: I didn’t laugh once. In­deed, I was

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