** (2 stars)
d - Ben Wheatley
w - Alice Lowe, Steve Oram
ph - Laurie Rosepd - Jane Levick
m - Jim Williams
ed - Robin Hill, Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley
cos - Rosa Dias
p - Claire Jones, Nira Park, Andrew Starke
To examine the idiosyncrasies of people who think they’re cleverer than they are is a rather immodest act in itself. Yet we all do it all the time. I recall a lunch I once had with a group of friends at a rather high-prised restaurant. This was not a regular outing, and thus, felt special. Throughout the meal, an apprehensive sense of pomposity came over us in severe doses. For instance, a table next to us began laughing uproariously at a story that one of them had just told, to which everyone at my table gave looks to one another signalling “Yeah, like anyone at that table could say anything that hilarious!” I am not proud of that memory. People – and I stress the word “people” as opposed to “person” – are constantly in fear that they are not important. This is because most people, in fact, are not. So to be reminded of this fact stirs up rather ineffable reactions. Sightseers, the new British comedy from director Ben Wheatley, dissects these reactions.
Ben Wheatley has, after three films, become an assured director of intriguing luminosity. Like great directors such as Howard Hawks and Stanley Kubrick before him, he has invested his artistry in many different kinds of films, but has an instantly recognizable aesthetic that categorizes them all under one hand. His first film, Down Terrace (2009), was a low-budget crime drama, not unlike a Reservoir Dogs set in Brighton. His second, Kill List (2012), is a…...well…...let’s call it a psychological horror film (that seems to be the most common description, although only slightly accurate). Both pictures radiate a Ken Loach/Mike Leigh like rawness – in fact, analogous to Nuts in May (1976) – mixed with disturbing imagery and a comic absurdity that feels genuinely singular. His third film, Sightseers, is a black – black! – comedy about a couple who go on a caravan trip visiting various historical sites in Britain.
Sightseers is a difficult film to review. Other than “a couple who go on a caravan trip visiting various historical sites in Britain”, I don’t feel comfortable revealing anything else that occurs. Reviewing Kill List was similar. The film was written by its stars, Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, who create two extremely unlikeable characters that I couldn’t stop laughing with. Chris and Tina are their names and despite being very confused people, one can’t help but feel that they are familiar, and thus understandable.
Sightseers is about the mundane aloofness that percolates the insanity that allows human beings to do terrible things. The film works brilliantly as a road-movie comedy, but as a parable of this kind, the film only half-succeeds. Wheatley’s tendency to constantly bring this accept of the film to the foreground with the use of slow-motion, quick-cuts, juxtaposition of images and a very, very on-the-nose soundtrack, sag the movie in the exact places when I felt shouldn’t. But believe me when I say it is funny. Absurdly, that is.