56th BFI London Film Festival: ‘Sightseers’

By Matthew Rodgers Created: October 28, 2012 Last Updated: October 29, 2012
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Kill List was one of the best received Brit-flicks of the last few years and backed up Down Terrace in heralding director Ben Wheatley as a distinctive film-making talent. 

Sightseers is a very different film to those increasingly foreboding narratives, one which revels in a more playful approach, without completely abandoning the streak of bleakness which has permeated his work. 

Steve Oram and Alice Lowe in 'Sightseers' (Studio Canal)

Steve Oram and Alice Lowe in 'Sightseers' (Studio Canal)

The journey begins much as Kill List did, as a truly authentic study of English domesticity, a way of life that Wheatley clearly has an ear for. Tina (Alice Lowe) lives with her hypochondriac mother, a relationship strained by an unspecified event that has led to the death of their pet dog, Poppy. She is excited about an impending caravan holiday with her boyfriend of three months, Chris (Steve Oram), of whom her mother disapproves, and who has promised to show her the world, taking in such heady sights as a pencil museum and a ride on the tram. 

It’s a seemingly idyllic vacation, with only the distant threat of an upset mother hanging over their heads. That is until the seemingly affable Chris becomes frustrated with litter louts, smug holiday makers, and anyone else who contradicts his own outlook on life, with both bloody and funny results. Think True Romance relocated to the Yorkshire Dales. 

Full of instantly quotable lines and featuring two of the most likeable lead performances from the writer/star combination of Lowe and Oram, this is a deliciously dark romance that winds its way through the hills and dales, destination unknown. 

The slow unravelling of their exteriors is where the intrigue lies. Chris drops the occasional comment to which you might raise your eyebrows, unbeknownst that it will soon manifest in a way that would make Bonnie and Clyde blush. It’s all the more disconcerting because Oram plays Chris with a simplistic charm; you’re going to warm to this chap before the script tests your tolerance of a psychopathic anti-hero. 

The Bonnie of the story is Lowe; the child-like innocence with which she greets Chris’ escalating attacks is important for the audience investment. Regardless of where the narrative takes her, she is utterly charming throughout. 

Wheatley frames the drab locales with some striking imagery, mimicking the structure of our central pairing’s relationship, as lush green fields and trees penetrating a blue skyline. It’s a style that mirrors the way in which Chris and Tina share moments of genuine warmth amongst their self-destruction. 

Solely worth watching to discover the fate of Poppy the dog, Sightseers is a jolly little oddity, which is wrong for all the right reasons.

Rating: 4 / 5


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