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Never trust a caravanner! A brutal, hilarious British triumph.
Sightseers is emphatically not for your Aunt Nelly. Actually, it isn't suitable for my dad, most of the run-of-the-mill Saturday night cinema-goers, Daily Mail readers or the die-hard caravan owners who embark on such road trips. To be honest, Sightseers isn't right for many people at all; it's what you might call a niche film. It's going to satisfy a minority audience, but those few who do relish the thought of another dark, very dark, British comedy are going to absolutely delight in it.
Falling somewhere between Dexter and The League of Gentlemen (and if you don't know it, try Big Woman out for size a Desert Island Disc if I'm ever invited on), Sightseers is a road movie about an odd couple with all manner of demons swirling around their minds. Tina (Alice Lowe) still lives with her mum, has been traumatized by the death of her dog, Poppy, and knits. Having seen nothing of the world, an invitation from her new boyfriend, Chris (Steve Oram), to join him on a caravan holiday around Yorkshire with an itinerary that includes a tram village and a pencil museum, is tantamount to a golden ticket to a new life. However, her overbearing, overly dependent witch of a mother doesn't want her to go and Chris has an angry streak with murderous consequences.
Sightseers is beautifully downbeat and both subtler and far darker than Dexter could ever manage. It never makes a big deal of being funny but casually drops in five-star moments throughout that don't always cause belly laughs but do prompt a regular supply of chuckles and wide-eyed smiles. The action, or rather certain activities by the odd couple, however, causes explosive guffaws and shrieks of delight, the bloodier the better judging from the small audience I shared the experience with. There's no judgment from me on that score, I laughed as loud as the best of them.
The first murder we enjoy is swift, but the effect lasts long and the understated humour of the act echoes some time later as Chris nonchalantly washes the remaining of the blood off his caravan wheel. His mild annoyance followed by a passing satisfaction at a job well done are precursors to the simmering rage that follows.
Sightseers doesn't skimp on the horror although director Ben Wheatley keeps the gore and actual violence to acceptable (for those with a strong stomach) levels. He has crafted some genuinely disturbing scenes that take their time building the anticipation until the inevitable and occasionally truly brutal conclusion arrives. There is one quick shot of a, um, demolished head that will have you reaching for a pause button to admire the make-up if nothing else.
But the joy of Sightseers is not in the moments of horror but in the consistency of the subtle humour from Osram's and Lowe's stinging screenplay as much as their chillingly dour performances. Their performances are never fanciful but frighteningly convincing and turn the stomach ever so slightly when one recalls brief interactions with similar characters in real life.
Sightseers invades the brain, it expulses laughter from the belly and at times it wriggles under the skin like white noise and scratches at the nerves. It isn't always easy to watch and the occasional quip is over-egged as if neither cast nor director were convinced it would work completely. It's a minor criticism and a great pity because whenever the dialogue and performances are restrained to levels of naturalism, and that occurs for a good 95% of the film, Sightseers flies. One of the funniest, non-violent moments occurs as Tina struggles to write a note with a six-foot pencil. It's a moment of genius that is allowed to play out in its own time and manner without a wink at the audience to tell us it is a good moment to laugh.
Wheatley's previous offering, 2011's Kill List, left me cold. It disturbed and annoyed in equal measures and Sightseers is a vast improvement. More than that, it's a standout film for the year and, though not quite on the humour plane of The Guard, it's the funniest film I've seen this year so far and has marked out Wheatley's follow up, A Field in England, as a film to look forward to in 2013.
After yesterday's battle with First Great Western trains and the threat of dark happenings in the company of caravanners, I think I'm going to stick to my car in future.
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