Sundance '13: 'Sightseers' is a Darkly Hilarious & Grimly Charming Trip
by Ethan Anderton
January 18, 2013
Nothing says true love like a "justified" murder spree across the British countryside. Director Ben Wheatley has made quite an impression on film in a short time with entries like Down Terrance and The Kill List, and his latest film Sightseers continues the dark subject matter and also delivers the most entertaining and charming love story about two murderers ever conceived. When thirtysomething Tina (Alice Lowe) leaves her ailing but intrusive mother behind for a romantic caravan trip with her boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram), it sounds like the perfect escape with the potential for quirky comedy, but it's a ruse.
What follows is a surprising murder spree, all with plenty of guilty pleasure and gruesome laughter. Lowe and Oram make for a delightfully strange but inexplicably adorable couple on an "erotic odyssey" which turns into something much more sinister. They just might be considered the best on-screen couple of the year when 2013 is all said and done. Just one stern grimace from Oram makes you fear for the next unfortunate annoyance in his path, and Lowe is always on the edge of doing something wild until she finally snaps and turns to the dark side.
Both Lowe and Oram play off each other so well in this grounded but still peculiar world that they created in their original script (yes, the stars wrote the movie themselves) with some help from Wheatley's partner Amy Jump. The result is a dryly funny story about a couple still figuring each other out after three months of dating, and suddenly become fine with each other killing people who have done "wrong." But we're talking wrong as in littering or being a little bit stuck up. So yeah, it's pretty messed up. But there's a cute little dog named Banjo (and Poppy) that could give The Artist canine Uggie a run for his money.
But what's great about this horror comedy (and I'm using the term loosely, because it has a visual style and tone all its own), is its approach to such dark subject matter in a lighter, but still very bloody, package. From the "accidental" first kill to the later nonchalant murders that strangely become normal, it's all so much twisted fun. Even the more sad moments are still relieve by some dark comedy. It also helps that there's a lot of 80s pop hits that make you tap your foot and smile when they present themselves at just the right moment (especially the upbeat tune for the credits that we won't spoil here).
But as much as Lowe and Oram make the script and the overall acceptance of the film easy to swallow and highly entertaining, it's Wheatley's direction and management of the tension that mounts from the inevitable kills that add to the enjoyment. Very rarely does a film make you cringe and put you on the edge of your seat with suspense, only to make you laugh simultaneously at the horror unfolding. Wheatley is a master of suspense and laughter in this quaint little tale that takes elements of American Psycho, Eagle vs. Shark, National Lampoon's Vacation and The Strangers and rolls them all into a murderous laugh riot.
Ethan's Sundance Rating: 8 out of 10