British film writer & director Ben Wheatley is probably best known for the love it or hate it head-fuck that is The Kill List. Revelling in its ambiguity, The Kill List left some viewers cold and perplexed. His follow up film Sightseers has a much more linear narrative structure and is all the better for it. It also happens to be rich in both humour and heart, each arriving in heavy black doses.
Sightseers begins with a sombre feeling as we watch a strained mother and daughter relationship unfold. The mother is lost in thought, consumed by the death of her one true friend, her dog Poppy. “I’m your friend Mum” consoles the daughter Tina. “No, you’re just a relative” replies Mum. Insert tongue firmly into cheek as Sightseers starts how it means to go on. The film doesn’t hang about either, as we are quickly introduced to Tina’s new boyfriend Chris. In a desperate need to escape, Tina explains to her Mum that she is going away with Chris on a caravan trip across Cumberland taking in all the historical sights along the way. Cue 80’s soundtrack, Tainted Love by Soft Cell. How very apt indeed.
From here on in we are treated to murder and humour in equal measures. It all starts with Chris whom deals with both his anger and intolerance for litterbugs and smugness with a spot of hit & run and head bashing. All of which is unbeknown to Tina, whom is blinded by the occasion and increased passion within the relationship. As the body count increases, so too does Tina’s suspicions. How does she take to the news that her new boyfriend is a psychotic? well, Tina doesn’t care much about being fair. She only cares about being happy.
Maybe not for the horror purist, Sightseers is a mixture; An outstanding character study combined with both a typically British sense of humour and a spot of psychotic violence here and there. The characters on study here are both Tina and Chris and their dynamics within the blossoming relationship. The first part of the film is owed to Chris as we bear witness to the emergence of his murderous instinct and learn that he wants to be feared and respected, yet the real study here is with Tina as she is given even greater focus as the film progresses. Tina is a woman so naive, so easily influenced, so easily encouraged and so desperate for happiness, she will believe in anything to escape her mundane existence and to feel wanted, needed. It could all be felt as very tragic if it wasn’t so superbly funny with lines like “I’ve never thought about killing an innocent person like that before” and “murder is actually quite green as you are reducing the carbon footprint” but he who laughs last laughs the longest as the best joke of all is saved to the very very end. Cut against the Power of Love by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, it is a wonderful bit of film-making and one of the best endings in recent memory to any genre film. I couldn’t stop laughing. I’m still smiling now. Sightseers is essential viewing.