Sociopaths at play
(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