Tina (Alice Lowe) is a sheltered and naive woman in her 30s, still living with her mother and entirely dependent on others. Deciding to go on the first holiday of her life with new boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram), they depart on a caravan tour to the north of England. Happy to be finally off her mother’s leash, Tina is having the time of her life and experiencing a freedom she has never tasted before. Chris, however, is not all he seems to be. Tina soon realises that the man she is madly in love with is a caravan-obsessed psychopathic murderer. Rather than experiencing fear or revulsion, she is enthralled by his homicidal tendencies, and the two continue their dark tour of England.
Sightseers is a decidedly odd film. It’s a strange mix of funny, fear, sweetness and sorrow. The general ambiance is not much like anything else that has come before it, yet it’s hard to pinpoint why. It’s so restrained, so quiet, so utterly English. It’s a caravan tour with murder – that premise alone is enough to make the film hilariously unique, but Sightseers delivers so much more. The principal reason for this success rests on the relationship between Tina and Chris. These characters do utterly reprehensible things, yet they become so familiar to the viewer that their actions almost seem reasonable. Tina is so disarmingly silly, and her love for Chris is so genuine, that it promotes a desire to justify murder. We want Chris to get away with his brutal crimes because otherwise Tina’s holiday would be spoiled. It’s absurd, it’s bizarre and it’s wonderful.
There is no point during Sightseers that you won’t adore Alice Lowe. She inhabits the persona of Tina so convincingly that it is a little alarming. Her vocal inflections, her sideways glances, her genuine and shy smiles, everything about Tina is just beautifully rendered. The success of Sightseers rests on her character. She needs to seem sheltered and cuddly whilst at the same time retain an ability for her personality to develop drastically, and Alice Lowe fits the bill. Ben Wheatley has written the most remarkable character. However innocent Tina seems, we are warned early on to be wary of her. Chris doesn’t transform Tina’s personality, she just comes out of her shell. She appears simple enough on the surface, but you’ll be left trying to figure her out for years.
Steve Oram gives an exceptional performance as Chris. Every item on the psychopath checklist is met in his cold and calculating persona, and he nails every one. Shallow affect – check. Failure to accept responsibilities for one’s own actions – check. Lack of realistic long-term goals – check. Criminal versatility – check. Sexual deviancy – check. It’s all here. Chris goes from a warm and loving boyfriend to a terrifying brute in the blink of an eye, and we begin fearing for anyone around him that might tick him off. A psychopath is not just an unfeeling robotic bastard, and Steve Oram knows this. How are you supposed to look as though you have “shallow affect”? Who knows? Steve Oram does.
A weaker film might have to rely on big slapstick jokes (lets call them shit-in-the-sink jokes, shall we?), which the trailer would inevitably ruin, but the humour in Sightseers comes from knowing the central characters so well. Watching Tina just pottering around is enough to plaster a big grin on the stoniest of faces. Jokes never linger until its presence becomes unwelcome. The result is a well-paced comedy of just the right length. No more or less is required in Sightseers, it is truly a masterfully edited film.
Sightseers has an awe-inspiring use of music. One scene in particular is made so dark and beautiful that it’ll send shivers down your spine. The camera-work is also superb, it’s always working to provide that little bit extra in every scene. Wide, sweeping shots display the majesty of England, and we feel Tina’s wonderment. The camera techniques during murders are hugely entertaining, and the photography always goes out of its way to make these events feel like special occasions. Sightseers is far more than just a funny script and excellent performances. Everything clicks. Sightseers is a wonderful experience.
Ben Wheatley had a clear artistic vision of the film he wanted to make, and it just drips with his personal touches. There’s little chance that any audience outside of the UK will find this as enthralling. The English idiosyncrasies, the accents and the nebbishy folk that populate Sightseers don’t lend themselves to international acceptance. Within our cold and blustery shores, however, Sightseers will find its vogue. Hilarious dialogue, lovably disturbing characters, beautiful locations, a complete lack of pretentiousness and cutest little dog since The Artist – Sightseers establishes the mind of Ben Wheatley as a finely tuned instrument. Sightseers is more than just a comedy. You’ll be left with that odd, warm rumination that only a truly outstanding film can ignite within you. This is one of the best British films in years.