I have been meaning to watch Sightseers for a very long time and now that I have, I genuinely don’t know what to make of it.
This Ben Wheatley film is about a new couple still at that honeymoon stage, going on their first holiday together which just happens to spiral into a killing spree. Most reviews bill this couple as ‘average’ which is a little bit misleading – the couple, played by Alice Lowe and Steve Oram (who also wrote the film’s script), are social outcasts. They are quirky, weird, kinky and boring – basically they are quintessentially British.
The film plays out like the British Bonnie and Clyde, but instead of robbing banks they are on a sightseeing holiday, killing people over litter, stealing dogs and having sex in knitted lingerie. It is probably a good time to state that these characters are completely crazy.
I think what I found most uncomfortable about the film is that Lowe and Oram, together with the direction of Wheatley, have put together a portrait of British lunacy that I can identify with and have likely interacted with in the past. This lunacy isn’t that far off from normality. I know people like Tina and Chris for crying out loud.
It is important to state that this film is very funny and shockingly violent – it’s the marriage of these two elements that makes Sightseers unique. It is the only film that I have ever seen that uses laugh out loud humour to add to the shock value of the violence. For example, Chris justifies killing a complete stranger by saying that “he is not a person, he’s a Daily Mail reader,” a comment that I genuinely couldn’t stop laughing at for about 5 minutes. But even with the humour, the gravity of the crimes committed weigh heavily on the film, they are never belittled and they are never treated as an afterthought. They all have consequences.
My biggest problem with the film is with the direction. For the most part, Ben Wheatley does a great job of telling the story about how this seemingly normal couple descend into the rabbit hole but he litters the film with dream-like sequences which cheapens the whole experience. We get it, they are mad as a bag of rats. We don’t need to see them dreaming about vampires and dancing to rhythmic bongo drums to get that point. His direction make this film feel too ‘art-housey’, when in my opinion it should have been left to be a quirky little film about a couple of serial killers.
And it is that couple that drives this film. Oram and Lowe are just fantastic – they ground these characters and stop them from becoming caricatures. For the most part, the film feels coherent and it never ends up feeling like a series of morbid comedy sketches and the credit has to go to the two leads.
But overall, I don’t know if I liked this film or not. I don’t think I am going to be in a rush to re-watch it. The best I can say about Sightseers is that it is an experience.