Sightseers is a very difficult film to review, because it’s one of those films which you’re better off seeing while knowing as little about it as possible. If you go into it knowing nothing, the first big surprise happens about fifteen minutes in, so it’s very difficult to talk about it without getting into spoilers. So, in brief: it’s very good; clever, twisted, and extremely funny. I will try to avoid spoilers, but if you want to go in knowing nothing, stop reading now and come back once you’ve seen it. Otherwise, read on.
Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) are going on a caravan holiday together. Tina has led a sheltered life with her mother up till now, and Chris wants her to see the world. Or rather, his world: the Crich Tramway Museum, the Keswick Pencil Museum and the Ribblehead Viaduct are among the sights Chris plans to take her to. Tina’s mother is reluctant to let her go, and, it turns out, with good reason, because as they explore the Tramway Museum, things take a turn for the strange.
Of all things, Sightseers seems like what Badlands might have been if it were a black comedy, in that it’s about two mentally unstable people on a road trip around the country, meeting with and disturbing many people on their journey. Like Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, Oram and Lowe are constantly at the focus of the film, with some sections even being narrated by Tina in the form of letters to her mother. Both play their parts very well: from the first time he mentions the Pencil Museum, it’s impossible to shake the feeling that something isn’t quite right about Chris, and Oram manages to keep the audience wondering what’s going on in his head throughout the whole film. Lowe is particularly good as Tina, thoroughly convincing as a very sheltered adult child who has no idea how the real world actually works.
As I said, Sightseers is completely turned on its head about fifteen minutes in, subverting the audience’s expectations and making it clear that they’re in for something quite different from what they were expecting. It goes pitch black very early, and fortunately the comedy is pretty much spot on: naturally, not all the jokes work, and there are more than a few moments which are more awkward and cringe-inducing than actually funny, but most of the time it is very funny. The script alternates between hilarious and deeply disturbing, and indeed, is often both at the same time. Sightseers is actually a very daring film, as is often necessary for a black comedy, willing to comment on and make jokes about things which would be beyond the pale for simpler comedies, and is worth seeing for this aspect if nothing else.
While it would be possible to write a long review of Sightseers, it would be near impossible to do so without spoiling the surprises it has to offer. Suffice to say that it’s a very smart film with two great leads, and it’s highly recommended if you enjoyed director Ben Wheatley’s previous films Down Terrace and Kill List. It’s not as good as In Bruges, but it’s definitely worth your time all the same.