Even Quentin Tarantino would be hard pressed to dream up anything as dark, bloody or surprisingly funny as Sightseers, Ben Wheatley's third low-budget British feature after Kill List and Down Terrace (which was never released in Australia, sadly).
A black satire that bites like a rabid dog, it's hilarious and horrifying in equal parts and plays like a British version of the recent US indie God Bless America; a stark two-character road movie with as many murders as laughs. Think a Mike Leigh or Ken Loach film - with their salty lower middle-class characters - meets the horror-comedy of Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright. It's Nuts in May meets Hot Fuzz.
It's not surprising, then, that Wright is an executive producer here. What is surprising is that it's written by its two stars, Alice Lowe and Steve Oram (mainstays of British film and television), and inspired by the short play they wrote and performed.
Eager to escape her harridan mother, Tina (Lowe) joins her new boyfriend Chris (Oram) on a caravanning holiday through England's lesser-known sights. There's the Keswick Pencil Factory, the Crich National Tramway Museum and the Ribblehead Viaduct. OK . . .
But as the two perfectly plain sightseers enjoy the Midlands' caravan parks and camping grounds, the dark souls lurking beneath the bad teeth and Kmart clothes begin to surface. Actually, they don't so much surface as hit with a thud when a litter bug goes under the wheel of Chris' caravan.
"It's no use," groans Chris behind his ginger beard. "He's ruined Crich Tramway Museum for me."
That's the first of many amusingly bloody scenes as Chris begins to off anyone who annoys him; hikers, joggers, cyclists, fellow caravanners - anyone who gets in his or Tina's way of a nice holiday. Tina is happy to be his accomplice. And so a killing spree ensues.
Hey, it's Natural Born Campers.
Sadly, that's where the joke starts and ends in Sightseers. There are early hints that this may be a comment on class wars, with the lower middle-class getting revenge on the rich. But after the second or third bludgeoning, it's clear that Chris is plain bonkers and Tina is just as bad. And while the murders themselves are quite funny the film itself becomes the real victim of diminishing returns.
Natural Born Killers and God Bless America made solid comments on US mass media, while Hot Fuzz and Shaun of the Dead played on the zombie-like boredom and mundanity of British life.
Yet Sightseers says almost nothing about anything, and draws out in the second half until its admittedly ripping ending.
That said, Oram and Lowe are just terrific, and play off each other with an oddball wit and charm. And the scenery is quite beautiful; all rolling green hills and rocky outcrops, which the two soon dot with splashes of blood.
With a bit more subtext, Sightseers could be a cult classic. Instead, it's a simple but bloody road movie that goes nowhere. Perhaps that's the point. Perhaps it's a murderous metaphysical jaunt around purgatory.
Better buckle up for safety.
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