Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) are off on a caravanning holiday, much to the annoyance of Tina’s manipulative overbearing mother. However, the way to minor English tourist attractions is paved with obstacles, namely people who are just, well, kind of annoying. So why should Chris and Tina let anyone get in the way of their little excursion? What follows is a frequently hilarious, blackly comic, oddball road movie, and director Ben Wheatley’s most satisfying film yet.
Delivering on the promise of both Down Terrace (which did the best it could given its limitations) and Kill List (terrific up to a point), Wheatley’s bleakly beautiful style fits perfectly with the characters and story, another depiction of quintessentially English weirdness. Finding fascination in the decidedly humdrum, as well as showing off the surrounding landscapes (both aspects somewhat reminiscent of Michael Winterbottom’s outstanding TV series/film The Trip with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon), Wheatley demonstrates a canny ability to create a visually arresting scene, knows how best to frame a sight gag, and neatly judges how to piece together a sequence that can be equally played for horror or laughs.
However, it’s really Oram and Lowe’s show. As co-writers, basing their roles on characters they have previously both played together, they completely inhabit their parts which, although not entirely believable in their actions and behaviour, are still invested with enough personality and recognisable traits to be engaging and entertaining guides through the ensuing carnage. Chris’ increasing exasperation at the world he had hoped to take a break from is wonderfully matched by Tina’s mix of furrowed-brow confusion and wide-eyed naivety, but soon they are on a dangerously similar wavelength – though this isn’t some quest to write society’s wrongs a la God Bless America. Certain stereotypes are picked upon, but there’s no overarching agenda, which makes for a more interesting, unpredictable journey. More importantly, it’s damn funny, with so many killer lines, it’s best to get on board now before it gets hijacked by quote-a-long jerks and T-shirts in Forbidden Planet.
Like an updated version of Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May gone terribly wrong, Sightseers may be a bumpy ride for some, with its unforgiving outlook and downbeat desperation amid the brutality and japery. Pass on it though, and you’ll be missing out on probably the best British film this year.