Sightseers, the third feature film directed by Ben Wheatley, is a British dark comedy written by its two stars, Steve Oram (who plays Chris) and Alice Lowe (who plays Tina). The film opens Friday, May 31, at Landmark Theaters’ Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco.
The characters of Chris and Tina are a relatively mundane couple that set out in a caravan to explore the British countryside, much to the chagrin of Tina’s mother. The couple’s itinerary is innocent enough, with plans to visit the Tram Museum, Pencil museum, and Ribblehead Viaduct. However, the road trip takes a hilariously sinister turn when annoying locals and fellow travelers strike a nerve with Chris. As Chris and Tina lose their patience, their peaceful vacation begins to snowball into, well, bloody murder.
The deadpan black comedy in the film is absolutely brilliant, with the believable British couple quietly unraveling on a violent farce of a road trip. Oram and Lowe absolutely owned their parts, after all the writing-acting pair had been refining their characters for years. In developing the story for the film, they took two research trips around the UK without breaking character, improvising ideas for scenes.
While director Ben Wheatley displayed his chops for violent drama in his previous films, Down Terrace (2009) and Kill List (2011), Sightseers proves that Wheatley has a penchant for comedic timing as well. In a way, this feature is just as bleak and brutal as Kill List, only it is oppositely whimsical and lighthearted.
One of the film’s most clever gags involves a dog that looks identical to one that had belonged to Tina’s mother before suffering an unfortunate accident. Watching somebody’s face being bashed in to a grisly pulp should be impossible to pull of in the context of humor, but the film pulls it off with an unsettling level of comedic grace.
The gorgeous British countryside casually being splattered with the body parts of unfortunate victims is a juxtaposition that works on an accessible level of depravity. That is, it is almost impossible not to pick up on the humor in Sightseers, no matter how twisted and horrific it gets. Although the laughter may be uncomfortable at times, the film’s depressing and often horrifying turns maintain a casual sense of wit that gently reassures the audience that it’s okay to laugh.
It is safe to assume that Sightseers will be the wittiest splatter film of the year.