REVIEW: Sightseers [2012]

Rating: 6 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 88 minutes
    Release Date: November 30th, 2012 (UK)
    Studio: StudioCanal / IFC Films
    Director(s): Ben Wheatley
    Writer(s): Alice Lowe & Steve Oram

It was an accident, Mum.

It’s always the quiet ones—those introverted, socially inept (when not talking about their preferred topic of choice), and downtrodden souls rejecting their unjust position within a hierarchy outside of their control. They’re the ones who trade a lack of entitlement to do whatever they want for the festering entitlement of believing they’re more righteous than those who do exactly that. These are the civil servants who snap after being stepped on too many times; the selfless adult children of aging parents who are trapped by love to have their time dominated by guilt trips. They say they just want to enjoy a peaceful vacation caravanning the countryside, but what they really crave is an escape from society’s oppressiveness. They seek the control they’ve never had.

This is the mold in which Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram) have been created. The two performers originated these roles on the stage as a normal looking couple hiding the secret that they were in fact serial killers. After a series of rejections, they shot a short film on their own that eventually made it’s way to Edgar Wright before being green-lit into a feature directed by Ben Wheatley (with “additional material” written by his usual screenwriter/wife Amy Jump). Sightseers becomes an entry point into the lives of these two lovebirds as they hit the road for a so-called “erotic expedition” through England. Each day delivers a tourist trap destination of forgettable import, a pasta dinner, kinky sex, and maybe—if we’re lucky—the occasional murder.

The conceit is pretty entertaining in its dryly British way. Think God Bless America but a lot more subdued and internalized. Rather than snap, these two overzealously let their frustrations out after long considering themselves on the low end of the community spectrum. The targets of their ire are therefore of an elitist class who inherently look down upon them less because of who they are than because of how they act. So expect a ton of hypocrisy like when Chris proves willing to kill a man for littering atop the ground of a national monument as well as a man who calls Tina out for practically doing the same thing. Righteousness quickly makes way towards jealousy and rage until they become irredeemable monsters killing for fun.

This is where the film ultimately lost me during much of its 88-minute runtime. What starts out funny by allowing us to live vicariously through these characters mowing down people who’ve lost their respect for their environment, mankind, and decency in and of itself soon devolves into a catty bitch-fest that touches upon patriarchal constructs without ever truly diving in. Tina begins to take up killing since she thinks it’s what Chris wants, but he of course becomes holier than thou by saying she’s doing it wrong. So the body count mounts while the “fun” decreases. But the message of them feeling lost and alone in their own country is too subtle to sustain the pitch-black tone. The characters lose our sympathy fast as things get repetitively dour.

I still think it works enough as a whole to warrant a look, though, because I’d be lying if I said I didn’t laugh out loud more than a few times. The addition of Tina’s mother Carol (Eileen Davies) and a backstory about their dog Poppy is a welcome bit of absurdity (even if it’s often forgotten). The pompousness of Ian (Jonathan Aris) and Janice (Monica Dolan) is so good that you might start screaming at the screen for Chris to club their heads in (even if he is intruding on their space and doing nothing to even feign commiserate friendliness). Eventually we find our eyes widening whenever Chris and Tina put themselves in a situation to be slighted because we’re desperate for the impending carnage.

That’s surely the point: our wanting to look past their selfish faults so they can kill with impunity shows our complicity in this warped circle of life. While this sustains itself for a good portion, however, the instant you start questioning your bloodlust and their psychopathy things grind to a halt. Suddenly we’re just watching two malicious souls growing numb to what they’re doing. The murders lose their luster and the once goofy love turns sour. Rather than laugh at their acts, we can only giggle at the situations (it’s impossible not to smile when Chris exits the caravan with paper towels and Windex to clean the road after Tina runs over a pedestrian). It all appeared to be working towards something before meandering to nowhere.

Well that’s not fair because the end is rather perfect. Somewhere along the line Sightseers becomes a competition of sorts wherein Chris and Tina go head-to-head to get the other’s attention. Innocence and malice flip-flop until you’re unsure about just how bloody this thing will end. It’s here where the gender politics comes in clearest since Lowe is very astutely subverting her Tina’s desire to be loved into an act that works to get what she wants. When Chris appears to want a muse for his art, she embraces the role. When he rejects her complete devotion despite his heinous crimes, she turns to heightened sexuality. And when that fails she goes headfirst into violence. It’s inevitable that she’ll discover the real blight on society is Chris himself.

[1] Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram) in Ben Wheatley’s SIGHTSEERS. Photo credit: Ben Wheatley. An IFC Films release.
[2] Tina (Alice Lowe) in Ben Wheatley’s SIGHTSEERS. Photo credit: Ben Wheatley. An IFC Films release.
[3] Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram) in Ben Wheatley’s SIGHTSEERS. Photo credit: Ben Wheatley. An IFC Films release.

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