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March 2013

Sightseers

cast: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Eileen Davies, Monica Dolan, and Jonathan Aris

director: Ben Wheatley

88 minutes (15) 2012
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Studio Canal blu-ray region B
[released 25 March]

RATING: 9/10
review by J.C. Hartley

Sightseers

This film reinforces what many of us feel about caravan holidays. Sightseers presents what is probably the worst caravan holiday since Ted, Dougal, and Father Jack, took their annual jaunt to Kilkelly Caravan Park and bumped into Father Noel Furlong. Think Mike Leigh's Nuts In May with serial killers.

Chris and Tina are characters created by writing and acting partners Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, who have worked with Steve Coogan, and on The Mighty Boosh, The IT Crowd, Garth Marenghi, and the wonderful Snuff Box. Alice Lowe is in Edgar Wright's upcoming The World's End, and Wright was one of the main producers of Sightseers. Chris Oram is currently appearing in Sue Perkins worthy, but laugh-light, lesbian sitcom Heading Out.

Tina is a thirty-something living with her manipulative mum, under the shadow of the latter's accusations that she killed their terrier Poppy, in a knitting-needle related impaling we see in flashback. Into Tina's life has come bearded Chris, I don't think we find out how, and the two are embarking on a caravan holiday to take in the Crich Tramway Museum, Blue John Caves, the Pencil Factory at Keswick, and the Ribblehead Viaduct. This is to be an erotic odyssey, and Chris reveals that he has taken a sabbatical from work to write his book, and that Tina is to be his muse.

An encounter with a vulgar litter-lout at the Tramway Museum reveals depths of rage in Chris that his easy-going early scenes gave no hint of. Reversing the caravan over the offender, any notion that the incident was accidental is challenged by Chris' look of triumph as he comforts Tina. Next up, the pair encounter snooty couple Janice and Ian, with a terrier named Banjo that reminds Tina of Poppy. Ian is writing a book on ley lines, 'his third' and their attitude, and Ian's obvious success with the written word rubs Chris up the wrong way.

The following morning Chris stalks Ian as he walks Banjo and takes photos for his book. Stoving Ian's head in with a rock, Chris steals the camera and returns to the caravan followed by Banjo, prompting Tina to kidnap the dog. After a bout of sex, doggy-fashion, interrupted by Banjo licking Chris' backside, Tina is shocked to realise that some of the photos on Chris' new camera are not of her, "Chris, this is not my vagina!" Chris admits the murder and theft and says he did it for her. Tina comes to a full realisation of Chris' violent tendencies when she is challenged by a rambler to pick up Banjo's excrement at a stone circle, and Chris beats him to death with a length of wood he is using as a staff.

Tina takes her duties as a muse seriously, encouraging Chris to get his feelings down in his notebook; but the idyll is not to last long. After an encounter with a boozy hen-party brings out her jealous side, Tina slays a bride-to-be by pitching her over a crash-barrier into a ravine. The following day she kills a cyclist by driving into him, much to Chris' chagrin; there is no logic or form to Tina's killings, and her actions have opened the door to chaos. When Chris makes friends with Martin, a cyclist towing his 'carapod' (a sleeping-unit that Tina describes as an "alien's coffin"), around the countryside, deeper tensions within the central relationship bubble to the surface. Gory killings paired with the look-away comedy of embarrassment, the particular charms of geeky stop-offs on the caravan tourist trail, and the genuine trepidation one feels for anyone who crosses Chris and Tina, can make this an uneasy watch.

The gangster revenge tale of Down Terrace, and the soap opera, grunge hitman saga, and Race With The Devil style satanic cult conspiracy mash-up that was Kill List, didn't really prepare audiences for the comedy outing with killing that is Sightseers, as director Ben Wheatley's latest offering. Or perhaps it did. Wheatley's next effort, 'A Field In England', which sees deserters from a battle during the English Civil War undertaking a psilocybin fuelled treasure-hunt, sounds like another winner. I'm not a huge fan of gory slayings, nor the comedy of embarrassment; I found some of this hard to watch. Still, one should confront one's demons, perhaps just not in the way Chris and Tina do. Recommended!

The disc extras include a behind-the-scenes featurette, and an out-takes reel.



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