Three years ago this guy called Ben Wheatley made a ball busting thriller called Kill List. It was bizarre, puzzling, horrific, darkly comic and a heck of a lot of fun. I ended up watching that movie thrice in three days, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen it since. Wheatley followed up that film with A Field In England, an acid trip of a film which was absolutely impossible to figure out what it was about. So when I got to know that Wheatley was ready with a dark comedy involving tourists and murders, I was naturally excited.
If Kill List can be remembered as a modern classic horror thriller then I suspect Sightseers will be remembered as an underrated cult classic comedy. There’s an endless deluge of low-budget thrillers coming from Hollywood nowadays and Wheatley makes films that absolutely deserve your attention. Sightseers, like his other films, takes the most familiar of thriller concepts, injects comedy so dark it makes you feel guilty for laughing.
Our heroes are Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe), a couple traveling in a caravan across the English countryside. The only difference is, they leave a trail of murders everywhere they go. They’re sweet, and look normal, and are sort of off kilter whenever a death occurs. They’re odd. We’re never sure whether they’re psychotic killers or just unreal characters to drive a plot ahead.
What Sightseers lacks in originality it makes up for in an awareness of the unoriginality. It allows the characters to explore new zones in the murderous road trip genre – they banter sarcastically, completely irreverent to the rules of the genre, and deliver a series of hilarious scenes without worrying about re-inventing the wheel. It’s tough to mix body horror and self aware comedy, but Wheatley’s Brit satirical touch makes the proceedings exciting, funny and shocking all at once.
Oram and Lowe are clearly having a ball filming, they’re messily intense and intensely funny at the same time. The duo also wrote the script, and they both steal every scene they’re in. Some of the scenes are downright unsettling, especially whenever Chris backtracks from seething anger to tentative sympathy to outright shock. Tina has a disturbing past and you can see her mind slowly fracturing as Chris merrily carries on piling on one body after another. It plays out like a psychologically damaged romantic comedy in its best moments. Chris is a likable guy who spends much of the movie killing things but he loves Tina, and Tina has to decide whether it is better to dump such a person or go back home to her broken home and abusive mother. You get so knee-deep invested in the two characters you can’t help but lose yourselves in their madness.
Sightseers has more wit and creativity than most dark comedies. It’s one of the most challenging and entertaining movies in a long time, and if torrenting is the only way to procure the film then so be it. It goes way beyond Hollywood’s limited imagination, and it’s great to know that there’s a filmmaker out there who ‘gets’ what movie geeks want. We’re tired of the thriller clichés, and we get so little to cheer about.