In 2011, Ben Wheatley wowed horror fans with Kill List, establishing himself as a young director worth keeping an eye on. With Sightseers, which kicked off this year’s Milwaukee Film Festival’s excellent Cinema Hooligante program, he has elevated his movies to must-see status. It is remarkably assured, shockingly violent, and bracingly funny.
Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe), together for about three months, are set to embark on a meticulously planned holiday. Pulling a caravan, the plan is to mix camping with visits to historical sites and tourist attractions.
The tone is set almost immediately. Tina’s domineering mother doesn’t want her to go. Still angry with her daughter over an incident that resulted in the death of her beloved dog, she replies “so were you” when Tina insists that it was an accident right as Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” begins to play. It’s clear that the audience is in for something a little unusual and highly amusing.
As the couple’s journey progresses, Chris becomes exceedingly annoyed with the people they come across. The first such individual is a man who repeatedly litters. When he happens to be walking near the caravan just as Chris and Tina are pulling out of a parking lot, Chris goes out of his way to run over the litter bug, killing him in gruesome fashion. Tina believes it was a horrible accident (as do the police).
Suffice to say, that isn’t the last person to meet their demise after getting on Chris’ bad side. He is easily aggravated, and he takes things very personally. Wheatley spaces out the murders effectively and when they happen, the graphic violence is as brutal as it is startling.
Though it isn’t an easy balance to pull off, Wheatley manages to cultivate a nearly perfect balance of comedy and horror. In between the killing (which themselves generate a sort of awkward chuckling due to the way they are executed) the movie is frequently hilarious, most of it twisted or absurd or both: seeing Tina’s homemade lingerie, discussing the environmentally friendly nature of homicide, and arguing about whether a dog can face an identity crisis.
Despite the seriously abhorrent behavior on display, Chris and Tina are a strangely endearing pair, which is a testament to the outstanding performances given by Oram and Lowe. At times they seem like a normal couple, sharing laughs and intimate moments while occasionally bickering and getting on one another’s nerves. You wouldn’t pay them more than a moment’s notice if you saw them. Just another couple on vacation. As this particular vacation continues, it leaves behind a trail of bodies, which in turn causes tension between Chris and Tina, but not for reasons you would expect. The tension leads to a conclusion that is absolutely wicked and completely perfect.
Kill List was a solid though slightly overrated movie. It was clear the director had serious talent, but with Sightseers, Wheatley demonstrates that he has more than just talent. It feels like the work of a major filmmaker, someone genre fans need to close attention to. See this one as soon as you can.