The great British holiday. The staycation. Caravanning. A series of phrases as misleadingly optimistic as the hopes of the British film industry, yet in Sightseers all these things come together in a surprisingly effective package holiday that even the British weather can’t mar, seeing as it’s screening in the relative safety of the cinema.
From a script conceived by lead actors Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, with contributions from director Ben Wheatley’s collaborator Amy Jump, and produced by Edgar Wright, back to the homegrown roots of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz after Hollywood gave him Scott Pilgrim vs The World, this is not as powerful as Wheatley’s Kill List, but while played as a black comedy, in its own way this is just as bleak as that tale of hitmen and human sacrifice.
Tina just wants to escape from her ambitionless lower middle class suburban hell, the stifling knick knacks, framed photos of dogs, every day confronted by the fact that she is turning into her controlling mother. In the manner of those who know they have nothing better in their lives, she clings to Chris as desperately as he to her, but her mother ensures that any escape, even for a week, will be marred by guilt.
Leaving behind snow globe hell the first stop for the pair is the Crich Railway Village in Derbyshire, where a momentary lapse results in the death of a pedestrian. Both Chris and Tina are determined to make the best of it and not let it ruin the holiday, so they press on to their next destination, a caravan park where their determination to have the best plot results in another caravan being run off the road.
Chris and Tina are devoted to each other and their toxic relationship, willingly blind to the actions to which they are driving each other. He overreacts to transgressions, but she creates situations and manipulates him, the muse he was hoping to inspire his writing instead becoming his muse to murder. The dysfunction that pushes Chris is never made evident as it is with Alice, but the performances of Oram and Lowe, and indeed those of the supporting cast, are exemplary, their conviction, instability and volatility never in doubt.
The procession of victims may be composed largely of stock characters, but Sightseers sees the world as perceived by tourists, the simple joys of fresh green grass and open sky, sometimes blue, often grey, walking through meadows, and the great British affection for those who make the best of their simple lives, from writing books on Ley lines to building museums dedicated to pencils. Consider that were the film set in America even the supposedly plain characters would be painfully pretty and guns would feature heavily, as in Bobcat Goldthwait’s God Bless America.
It may lack the subversive edge of Kill List, but between the sites, the sights and the eccentric locals, it’s a pleasingly parochial horror comedy hybrid, doing for Britain what Wolf Creek did for Australia. Supported by an apt soundtrack, particularly Vanilla Fudge’s cover of Donovan’s Season of the Witch, with history flowing through the valleys as freely as the mist and as easy to get lost in, it manages to entertain, provoke and counter intuitively become a surprisingly commercial film.