Indie Roundup: ‘Sightseers’ – Pitch Black Comedy in the British Hinterland

Ben Wheatley’s first feature, “Down Terrace,” was a blood-soaked domestic tale. Think a Yorkshire version of “The Sopranos” as shot by John Cassavetes. That film showed Wheatley’s knack for teasing out undertones of primal rage beneath the tedium and the sniping of a suburban home. The result was an uneasy mixture of kitchen-sink drama, black comedy, and gnawing dread. His follow-up, “Kill List,” which was of my favorite flicks of 2012, developed and amplified this queasy sensibility as the movie spiraled from domestic chamber drama to gory crime thriller to bizarro horror flick. The ending left me unnerved. For his latest film, “Sightseers,” Wheatley delves back into familiar thematic territory, though he tells the story with less genre-bending, experimental verve than in his last outing. On the other hand, this film is a lot funnier.

Tina (Alice Lowe) lives in quiet desperation with her dotty, ill-tempered mother, who remains stubbornly in mourning for her dead puppy and openly blames Tina for the mutt’s violent end. So when Tina’s bearded boyfriend of a couple of months, Chris (Steve Oram), invites her to go caravanning through northern England to visit such sights as a pencil factory and a double-decker tram, she leaps at the chance. Just before they leave, Tina tells Chris to “show me your world.” That world proves to be much more action-packed — and bloody — than it might seem at first blush.

[Related: Indie Roundup: ‘Kill List’]

See, Chris has a temper and a very low tolerance for people who commit trifling social breaches. While on that double-decker tram, he sees some troglodyte flagrantly litter. And when he points this out, he gets the bird. Most people would curse the dude and his mother and then move on with their lives. Chris, on the other hand, “accidentally” backs over the douche with his trailer. Oops. They then camp next to a band of pagans, who dance around a bonfire while sacrificing a chicken. The spectacle awakens something in Chris, and he soon sheds his bashfulness about blood lust. Tina learns about her boyfriend’s lethal habits while watching in shock as he dispatches with a snotty upper-class twit. Instead of running screaming in the opposite direction, she stands by her man. After all, she doesn’t have much good waiting for her back at home.

Lowe and Oram not only star in the movie, but they also largely wrote the script. Their chemistry is palpable and their dialogue is chock-full of deadpan one-liners. At one point, Tina is thumbing through what she thinks is Chris’s digital camera — it was actually pilfered from one of his victims — when she comes across some naughty pictures of another woman. Flying into a jealous rage, Tina bellows, “This is not my vagina!” That might just be the best line of the year.

[Related: Indie Roundup: Revisit and Rethink Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ in ‘Room 237′ ]

In a lot of ways, this film reminded me of another British comedy about a road trip gone horribly wrong — “Withnail and I.” Both have bone-dry comic sensibilities. Both feature likable characters doing some very unlikable things. And though it may be too soon to say, both stand up to multiple viewings. “Sightseers,” however, has a much higher body count.

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See the trailer for ‘Sightseers’:

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May 2013

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