|'primarily a Comedy, if murdering people whilst driving a caravan is your idea of a laugh'|
Although noticeably softer in gore level and overall tone, Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers bears enough of the hallmarks to recognise it as the film from the guy who made Kill List. Where that film though was so overbearing it suffocated, and so ambiguous it alienated, his third feature is much more impressive of construction, accessible of plot and complete of vision. It’s also primarily a Comedy, if murdering people whilst driving a caravan is your idea of a laugh.
Leads Steve Oram and Alice Lowe turn in cracking performances for what really should be actor’s dream roles. Tina in particular is a repressed, neurotic gem of a character, bubbling over with inappropriate language and appropriate levels of weird affinity with Chris’s habit of bludgeoning people. Lowe's portrayal of her is little short of masterful, building Tina from child-in-woman’s-clothing to something much much more. It is an obligation at this point to mention the horrendous lack of roles like this for women in Hollywood and elsewhere, although you suspect Theron, Thurman and others might run a mile from some of Tina’s lines.
Humour isn’t necessarily a surprise here (the marketing campaign accentuated it), but just how adept at it Wheatley proves to be, is. His script includes everything from subtle-ish visual gags, to foul language as a Comedy weapon, to smart lines which call to mind Shane Black. In fact, with the inky nature of the narrative, you rather suspect Black in his heyday might have wildly approved of this and Sightseers has more in common to a Black Comedy (as opposed to a black Comedy) than the obvious touchstones of, say, Bonnie & Clyde.
There are still things that go wrong and it does feel sometimes that Wheatley is rushing through, not pausing quite enough to make us like two characters who are ostensibly the most vile people on Earth. A gag with a giant pencil doesn’t work at all and threatens to de-rail a large part of the final act and perhaps there are one too many sex gags to keep the film on the right side of good bad taste.
But Sightseers is also a film that frequently looks fantastic, thanks to Laurie Rose's cinematography, and that aims higher than it could have done whilst making us laugh. It’s grim, dark and occasionally difficult to love, but it’s also incredibly entertaining, almost entirely satisfying and very, very funny.
The 26th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 1st November to 18th November at venues around the city. Programming includes several UK premières, the popular Night Of and Day Of The Dead and a selection of competition films in the Official Selection.