No doubt about it, the third film by talented director Ben Wheatley takes us deep into the land of black comedy
Shortly after bashing a complete stranger to death with a cudgel and then smashing the man’s face against a boulder for good measure, Chris rifles through the contents of his victim’s backpack.
Having watched all this calmly, Tina, who is Chris’s girlfriend, makes a request: “See if he has any sandwiches,” she says. When Chris finds and hands one over, Tina avidly munches on it just feet from the bloody corpse.
“Sightseers” is a nasty but also very funny and exceedingly British movie about Chris and Tina’s excellent, albeit homicidal, adventure.
The third film by talented director Ben Wheatley (“Down Terrace” and “Kill List”), it features seemingly mundane, decidedly unglamorous characters and plays like a perverse version of a Mike Leigh movie.
When we’re first introduced to mousy Tina (Alice Lowe), she’s 34 and lives with her mother. Mum is still wallowing in grief over the recent death of her pet dog, which died after accidentally being impaled on one of Tina’s knitting needles.
“Murderer,” the mother cries, pointing at Tina. Back in English class, we used to call that foreshadowing.
Tina has recently begun dating Chris (Steve Oram, who also co-wrote the film with Lowe), a nerdy fellow with a beard and receding hairline. These two sad sacks are thrilled at having found each other and embark on a week-long driving holiday touring England’s Midlands and Lake District, during which they’ll camp in a trailer attached to Chris’ car. His carefully planned itinerary includes visiting such sights as a tram museum and another devoted to pencils.
The trip immediately goes awry when Chris becomes overwrought at the sight of a fellow tourist who litters. By the third time the man carelessly drops a snack wrapper, Chris has had enough. He backs into the man with his camper, fatally injuring the fellow. Was it intentional or an accident?
The police rule it an accident, but Chris has only begun to rid the world of people who annoy him. Once Tina catches on to what’s happening, rather than being horrified, she proves herself a quick learner. It soon becomes clear that there’s a good chance the pupil may surpass the teacher.
How one reacts to “Sightseers” will depend on just how susceptible one’s funny bone is to this sort of morbid humor. Think “Marty” but with both Marty and his girl transformed into cheerfully dweebish sociopaths.
What “Sightseers” especially has going in its favor are pitch-perfect performances by Lowe and Orem, who make this pair of achieving underachievers both creepy and amusing. It also helps that the movie is only 88 minutes long, which means it doesn’t overstay its welcome or drag on long enough for its central joke to wear thin.
And if you can just overlook the corpses, the scenery — including fog-bound mountains and vales and craggy outcroppings of giant rocks — is splendid.