Sightseers (Ben Wheatley, 2012)

Sightseers
Another film from the maker of ‘Kill List‘ and a return to horror, though with a very different tone. Where Kill List used hand-held cameras and a documentary feel to instil a sense of brooding menace, this uses the same techniques but undercut with a very black sense of humour. There is no laugh track and there are a few bloody scenes but this is not the juvenile feel of Inbred , compared to which it is both much funnier and much scarier.

It starts off with a keening wail, as an elderly lady, Carol, mourns her dead dog, for whose death she blames her daughter Tina (Alice Lowe). We later see in flashback that this appears to be at least partially justified. Alice is about to go on a caravan holiday with her boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram). There is something very, very British about a caravan holiday and this desperately ‘woolley jumper’ naffness is played up nicely. All the same, neither Alice, Chris nor, for that matter Carol, are quite normal, even for caravanners and when Carol turns to Chris and whispers menacingly at him “I don’t LIKE you”, there is a bit of menace in the air. In these opening scenes, Carol and Alice seem to be mentally unwell, Carol controlling and malevolent, Alice as subservient, meek and damaged, and Chris looks to be the normal one, though we know that things will soon change.

As they drive away, Chris itemises all the highlights he has in store for Alice; to us cosmopolitan (almost anyone qualifies compared to Alice) viewers, these seem very pedestrian and twee (although I’ve been to and enjoyed most of them) but to someone so closeted and unworldly as Alice they seem exotic and daring; the tram museum at Crich, the Blue John Caverns, the Pencil Museum at Keswick, Fountains Abbey, Ribblehead Viaduct. It seems Chris has an overdeveloped sense of order and control issues. After some mildly oafish behaviour exhibited by a fellow visitor to the tram museum, we see that he has severe anger management issues also. He tries to keep this secret from Alice but she soon finds out and, much to Chris’ surprise, is perfectly happy with it. Soon, the pair’s holiday turns in to a serial killing spree.

A few interesting (to me) things stuck out about this film. Firstly, how much Chris’ obsession with bad behaviour in others struck a chord with the audience. At the tram museum, as the soon-to-be-victim oaf littered unapolagetically, there was a collective groan of disapproval and there was laughter as Chris ran him down ‘accidentally’ shortly after. It seems that littering joins being mean to puppies in the cinematographic hall of infamy deserving a violent death! Also there is something secure in Chris’ OCD targetting of people who, though surely undeserving of death in any real sense, can be said to ‘deserve it’ in the filmic sense – they had at least really offended him, even if unintentionally. When Alice gets involved, things get more chaotic and quite a bit scarier. The ending is both predictable and yet also satisfying – unlike Wheatley’s previous film, this one ends properly.

Lastly, the cheap gag on the poster about Chris’ being ginger – “death has a ginger face”. Well, all I can say is – who doesn’t know a ginger person with extreme anger management problems? I certainly do. It seems a bit of an easy stereotype. 😉

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