Directed by: Ben Wheatley
The cast includes:
- Steve Oram as Chris
- Alice Lowe as Tina
- Eileen Davies as Carol
- Richard Glover as Martin
- Monica Dolan as Janice
- Jonathan Aris as Ian
- Richard Lumsden as the Rambler
- Rachel Austin as the Bride-to-be
- Tony Way as the Crich tourist
So what’s it about?
Chris (Steve Oram) wants to show Tina (Alice Lowe) his world and he wants to do it his way – on a journey through this sceptred isle in his beloved Caravan. Tina’s led a sheltered life and there are things that Chris needs her to see – the Crich Tramway Museum, the Ribblehead Viaduct, the Keswick Pencil Museum and the rolling countryside that separates these wonders in his life. But it doesn’t take long for the dream to fade. Litterbugs, noisy teenagers and pre-booked caravan sites, not to mention Tina’s meddling mother, soon conspire to shatter Chris’s dreams and send him, and anyone who rubs him up the wrong way, over a very jagged edge. (Source: Wikipedia)
Cinema just put a big stupid grin on my face.
Ben Wheatley’s “Sightseers” has done the impossible: it’s made the phrase “British comedy film” seem, for once, like it’s not a contradiction in terms. For once, here is a genuinely funny film which is completely home grown… and I absolutely loved it.
What’s great about it is that there are no “You should laugh here” moments. Instead the film is stuffed full of little moments that will tickle your funny bone to a greater or lesser degree. At the screening I attended, I looked round the theatre and saw that everyone was laughing heartily at completely different moments. In fact, the person sat next to me had tears streaming down their face as they struggled to stop laughing. Understandably, this was the part where Chris calls Banjo the dog “a f**king pervert!” after he has been licked in his nether regions while making love to new girlfriend Tina… in her crotchless knitted lingerie (three words that should never go together).
Massive credit goes to its stars, Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, who also wrote the screenplay. These two have been regular bit-part players on the British comedy circuit for years. Steve Oram I first saw in a sketch for “The Mighty Boosh” while Alice Lowe excelled in “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace”. Since then, they seemed to have fallen off the radar (at least as far as I was aware) although they have popped up in cameo roles in umpteen shows over the years. Now at least, the talented pair will get the recognition they deserve.
The world they have created, the world of Tina and Chris, is one which celebrates the naffness of the British camping/caravanning holiday. The truthfulness of the story’s central characters and situations seem very accurately observed from life. Moreover, the ‘places of interest’ Tina and Chris visit along the way all seem worryingly familiar. As someone who has had to shepherd school trips round museums of the boringly mundane and had to perform some minor alchemy to make these yawnsome experiences seem perfectly fascinating this made the film resonate further still. Perhaps this is the secret of the movie’s success: the writing, acting and directing of this film are all enormously impressive in terms of creating a truthful setting for the mayhem which follows.
Much has been made of the gruesome murders which Chris perpetuates but, lest this puts you off or misleads you, this is much more of a comedy film than a horror. Certainly, the violence is graphic and gruesome but it is also, mercifully, short and it does need to be momentarily extreme to counterpoint against the banal comments Tina and Chris make to one another about going to visit “the pencil museum”. Therein lies the humour. By way of example, one particularly enjoyable moment of high comedy was when Chris savagely staves an arrogant rambler to death while John Hurt intones the words to “Jerusalem” in the voiceover. Ahhh, it stirs the heart.
The realism of the journey means that the characters can behave in far-fetched ways (such as bashing a rambler’s head to smithereens) and still it is rooted in some kind of believability. In terms of the universe created in this film, “Sightseers” evokes the surreal black humour of “The League of Gentlemen” mixed with the dark heart of Julia Davis’s “Nighty Night”. In fact, if I had to pinpoint the movie’s comical antecedents then I would say it is the League of Gentlemen’s “Stumphole Cavern” sketch writ large.
But the real comparison movie-wise, for me, comes down to the film’s producer: the wunderkind director Edgar Wright. “Sightseers” is very similar to Wright’s “Hot Fuzz” (starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost) in a lot of ways. Both films depict English rural scenes; both celebrate and poke gentle fun at their naff provinciality at the same time. Moreover, in both films, a series of grisly murders are committed with the justification that the victims had it coming for their annoying habits. Littering, smugness, noisy hen parties are just some of the reasons Tina and Chris use to justify their crimes.
The main difference is that this film is a lot darker in tone. And it’s all the better for it. The other difference is that its director, Ben Wheatley, eschews the flashy direction of Wright for a much more restrained but no less brilliant style of direction. Wheatley knows exactly how to direct scenes of physical comedy and verbal comedy. What’s more he knows also how to keep the viewer interested in between times. There are never really any slow or boring moments. He cuts quickly between scenes, makes use of stunning landscapes, comical dream sequences and terrific music like “Tainted Love” by Soft Cell, “the Power of Love” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood and more besides. There is never a dull moment.
My only criticism of the film, if there is one, is that once you get the basic idea (i.e. that Tina and Chris are likely to kill anyone that they come across that annoys them) then after a few killings you think where else has the story got to go? Thankfully, Wheatley and the writers seem to sense the need for change. The film seems to shift gears thereafter, in answer to this, as Tina starts to try and impress Chris by doing her own murders. Tension is then introduced in their relationship: firstly, through his condescending towards her, then through her ill-thought out murder attempts then finally when a bromance is introduced between Chris and his new “mate” Martin. This final bromance, begat of their shared love of Martin’s tiny one-man, bike-pulled caravan (or “carapod” as they call it), is the one thing that threatens to tear Tina and Chris apart and it is in this final half of the movie that Tina (Alice Lowe) really starts to shine.
Tina comes across as a real loner, someone who has never left home and never had any friends. This oddball, deadpan performance by Alice Lowe is impossible not to like. As the movie develops, this becomes all the more apparent as the arrogant Chris, the one person that seems to have taken an interest in her after all these years, treats her quite callously. The sad sight of a miserable Alice sat in the pencil museum coffee shop struggling to write a postcard with the giant 10ft pencil (called “The Big Scribbler”) she has just bought is brilliantly funny and heartbreakingly sad at the same time. In fact, their three month love affair is bitter-sweet as you are never really sure they are just settling for one another because no one else will have them. Still, Alice’s need for love, friendship and an escape from her domineering mother is palpable.
Her mother Carol, played with delicious relish by Eileen Davies, feigns injury and ill health to keep her close. She also makes sure Alice knows that she blames her for the death of her beloved dog Poppy at every single opportunity. There is a terrific scene where Carol lies at the foot of the stairs in a crumpled heap pressing her panic alarm for help. When none comes, she nonchalantly dusts herself down, puts her slippers on and calmly sips her tea. Wonderful stuff.
In fact there is not a bum note among the cast. Chris (Steve Oram) is suitably chilling one moment then mundanely practical the next (“You can buy anything from the store… as long as it’s under £10”). The murder victims are all suitably odious too; their smugness emanating off them in waves like the sheen on their velour tracksuits. Whoever did the costume design had such fun with this movie as the outfits Tina and Chris find themselves in are never less than pitch perfect in terms of their dowdy awfulness, and I’m including Tina’s tye-dye leggings in this.
I’m not familiar with Ben Wheatley’s other work but I’m going to be from now on. He has taken a cracking script and turned it into a cracking film. In terms of a British comedy that is unheard of. If I haven’t put the case strongly enough then I will redouble my efforts now. This film is utterly fantastic. Even the ending is brilliantly different. I have not left a cinema with such a feel-good stupid grin on my face since I don’t know when. Watch and enjoy.
IN SHORT: It’s bloody and brilliant. It’s bloody brilliant.
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5.
Go see it without delay.
What did you think of ‘Sightseers’? Leave a comment and rate it below here:
- Read a review of the film on The Guardian’s site.
- Check out the film’s official website
- Read about the film on Rottentomatoes.com
- Read a review in the Independent.
- Read about the movie going to Sundance on Empire’s site
- Read about the movie on IMDB.com
- Read about the film on Wikipedia
- Read a review on Totalfilm.com
- Read a 3-star review of the film in Time Out
- Read about the film on the BBC news site
- Check out Alice Lowe’s own website
- The Sightseers page on Facebook
Trailer for Sightseers here:
Watch “The Stumphole Cavern” sketch by BBC comedy troupe “The League of Gentlemen” here: