Whereas Ben Wheatley’s previous film Kill List (2011) combined a hard-hitting assassin drama with the cult oddities of The Wicker Man (1973), his follow-up film Sightseers could almost be described as Carry On Caravanning (an outrageous addition to the franchise that was never made) meets low budget shockster The Honeymoon Killers (1969).
Nerdy Chris (Steve Oram) is preparing to go on holiday with his new girlfriend, perhaps soon to be bride, Tina (Alice Lowe). Despite her grumpy mother’s attempts to thwart their plan through good old emotional blackmail, they leave anyway. The lovers have decided to go on a caravanning tour around the UK, and have devised an exciting itinerary that involves trams as well as pencil museums, and beautiful British landscapes. If only the holiday wasn’t disrupted by other members of the public, whose individual self-centred behaviour and disrespect for decent people enrage Chris to the point of executing extreme measures. Or should that be executing those members of the public with individual self-centred behaviour and disrespect for decent people? You’d think that this might affect his relationship with Tina if she found out about his penchant for murder but – wouldn’t you know? – she joins in. They are partners in death, on a mission to rid the British countryside of ghastly snobs and irritating riff-raff.
Improvisation in a variety of locations combined with self-aware absurdities and extreme violence is what makes Sightseers such enjoyable viewing. Oram and Lowe put in great performances as the geeky couple who are at once naive and highly dangerous. The murders, when they happen, are notably graphic and accentuate the twist that plays upon our expectations of a basic character comedy. The delicious dichotomy lies with the extremities of the brutality but is set in the context of a good old-fashioned British caravan holiday, reflecting familiar attitudes which are taken to deliberate extremes. The justification for the attack upon one of the victims is the couple’s opinion that the annoying man walking amongst the stone circles is ‘not a person, he’s a Daily Mail reader’. Of course this is notably ironic because their prejudices are precisely those which they seek to criticise – those who engage in anti-social behaviour or, heaven forbid, those woolly liberals…
Occasionally the humour runs a bit dry, especially during the scenes which are clearly improvised – a touch of judicious trimming at the editing stage would probably have tightened the overall experience but, that said, Sightseers is funny, gory holiday entertainment. And who would deny that there’s just a little bit of wish fulfilment in there. Right?