There are several ways of looking at Sightseers: (1) It’s a black British comedy in the tradition of the old Ealing Studios; (2) It’s a spoof of the Bonnie and Clyde/Badlands trope of his-and-hers murder sprees; (3) It’s just not quite funny enough. My advice: No need to choose, feel free to circle all three.
At first blush, Tina and Chris could be a couple of escapees from a Mike Leigh flick. She’s a pie-faced 34-year-old still living with her pinched mom in a council flat. He’s a ginger-bearded baldy with a matching paunch. Hey, it must be love. It’s certainly sex – together, in her upstairs bedroom right beside mommy’s, they’re a pair of horndogs. Anyway, the time has come to test their new relationship with a week’s holiday in his caravan. England’s north country beckons, maps are read, historic sites get pencilled, and the sightseers hit the open road.
First stop, a tram museum, where a slobby tourist blithely tosses his candy wrapper onto the floor of a classic trolley car. Offended by such wanton despoiling of history, Chris takes a polite run at the slob verbally, and then, somewhat less politely, takes another run at him with his caravan. Splat. Later, wiping the blood from the hubcaps, he dries his hands and breezily concludes, “There. Good as new.” Later still, in a trailer park, a prissy neighbour causes further offence, although that problem too is promptly resolved with a sharp rock upside the head. Chris may have wielded the rock yet, as he rightly points out, “It’s smug complacency that killed him.”
See, funny, but not quite enough.
Well, by now, Tina has not only clued in but, perhaps more surprisingly, joined in. She’s a tad needy and eager to please her man. A posh liberal with a public school education? Gone. A boisterous babe at an adjoining restaurant table? Ditto. A jogger on the road? Once again, splat. And what’s more violence without more sex? Cut to the lovebirds in the caravan, really making it rock.
Of course, like all getaways, a domestic terror vacation does have its down moments. The two sometimes bicker, even break into strenuous argument. Chris takes stern exception to Tina’s homicidal style – she’s a bit messy for his tastes, not to mention random. Still, he can’t help but be won over by her sweet way with a rationale: “It’s just about personal empowerment, about thinking outside the box.”
Actually, since they double as co-writers of the script, thinking outside the box is precisely what the principal actors are trying to do here.
Both Alice Lowe and Steve Oram have backgrounds in sketch comedy, and it shows – the film struggles to get past the sketches and earn its feature length.
Also, I could have used more wit and fewer shenanigans, the sort of acerbic drollery that keeps the black from overshadowing the humour – Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave would be a sharp-toothed example. Can’t complain about the ending though – it’s wickedly good.
As for director Ben Wheatley, he’s mainly there for the padding – stitching in the surreal dream sequences, scoring a couple of the murders to reprises of Season of the Witch, and once adding a voiceover reading of the “dark Satanic mills” passage from Blake’s The New Jerusalem. That last addition ain’t funny but it is posh, which only suggests that Wheatley hasn’t been watching his own movie – he’d be well advised to steer clear of a certain ginger-bearded guy and his pie-faced moll.