Kill List director Ben Wheatley's latest wool-loving creations kill and maim with impunity whilst enjoying 'the most spectacular scenery British has to offer'
While they’re not at all well known, Alice Lowe and Steve Orem – the lead actors and co-writers of Sightseers – have a CV that reads like a who’s who of modern British comedy. Together they have notched up appearances in the likes of The Mighty Boosh, The IT Crowd, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Little Britain among other seminal sitcoms and comedy vehicles.
In sightseers, the first time either have enjoyed star billing, they’ve teamed up with award-winning British director, Ben Wheatley. Wheatley is best known for last year’s Wicker Man-esque, pagan conspiracy, hit man flick Kill List. If that sounds like an odd description of the film, that’s because it is a very odd film, if incredibly affecting and violent.
Wheatley brings a loose and improvised feel to the performances in his films, as well, conversely, a precise editorial eye for detail. The plot here is simple. Lowe and Orem play Tina and Chris, a recently attached couple enjoying their first holiday together – a caravanning trip around the Lake District. En route they accidently kill a litterer and from there develop a taste for carnage, taking out their pent up rage on those unfortunate members of society that irk them, for various mundane reasons.
So far, so Falling Down. As with Michael Douglas’ white man empowerment piece, which was set in 1990s LA, Sightseers’ typically English lead characters typify the put upon, the hemmed in, the dispossessed middle-class English who quite enjoy their woolens. As the tagline goes, 'Killers have never been this close-knit.'
It’s more difficult to cheer on Tina and Chris’ killing spree when it involves the murder of people for such random and tenuous reasons as, for example, being more successful than them, or for being more middle-class. What elevates such a simple story, however, is the characters and how acutely observed they and their world are.
Chris, apparently a hard working man, is interested in local history, plastics and beer, and at one point he declares that he wants to write a book, though the subject matter is never specified. Tina, meanwhile, is a qualified dog psychiatrist who lives with her mother and who is still grieving after the death of their own canine in a bizarre knitting accident.
They are both, it seems, at the receiving end of life, used to being the butt of life's eternal joke and stewing in their own rage. That the expiration of their first victim is accompanied in the film by a loosed balloon soaring untethered into the sky is no accident. The same has happened to them – they have become untethered and let free. They now realise that they can do whatever they want.
Their Berghaus-clad odyssey takes them around the less heralded nooks of contemporary England – its caravan parks, its heritage parks, its pencil museums. Much like Kill List, it’s this eye for the mundane reality of 21st century Britain, for the surrealistic in the everyday, that grounds the greater excesses of the film.
And excesses there are. Anyone familiar with Kill List will not be surprised to learn that Sightseers also contains some shocking and graphically violent scenes. Unlike Kill List, however, Wheatley is not so concerned with scaring the pants of us viewers as he is emphasising the black humour of it all.
It’s not long, of course, before rifts appear in their relationship. Both their natural jealousies float to the surface and they fall out over their respective attitudes to murder. Chris, it appears, can’t abide spree killing – he needs a sense of order. Tina, on the other hand, has a more ‘anything goes’ approach.
From start to finish Sightseers offers grim hilarity as these fantastically realised monsters kill their way through some of the most spectacular scenery that Britain has to offer. While Chris and Tina make for uncomfortable, if entertainingly deranged company for an hour and a half, at least I get out alive at the end. Be glad you’re not sharing a caravan with them.
Sightseers runs in the Queen's Film Theatre from November 30 to December 13, 2012.