MRR Review: "Sightseers"

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Ben Wheatley directs a pitch-black British comedy in which the main characters happen to be played by the film's screenwriters. Chris (Steve Oram) wants to show girlfriend Tina (Alice Lowe) his world, but events soon conspire against the couple and their dream caravan holiday in Yorkshire takes a very wrong turn.
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MRR Review: "Sightseers"

-- Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Length: 88 minutes
Release Date: May 10, 2013
Directed by: Ben Wheatley
Genre: Comedy

The opening scene of "Sightseers" establishes the relationship of lonely Tina (Alice Lowe) and her mother Carol (Eileen Davies). It isn't a good relationship, as Carol whines constantly about how Tina is responsible for the death of Poppy, her beloved pooch. Looking for an escape from her life, Tina finds solace in Chris (Steve Oram), a burly bearded man who seems equally lonely and equally ready for a change of pace.

The new couple decides to hitch Chris' classic caravan trailer to a car and head to the Midlands in England, where they embark on one of the nerdiest vacations in cinematic history. They get excited over visiting places like a pencil museum or a collection of transit authority memorabilia. There is only one thing keeping them from having the best vacation ever-the rude people they seem to encounter pretty much everywhere they go. Chris has a short temper for rudeness and bad manners, which is painfully displayed when he nearly starts a fight with a man on a bus who throws his candy wrapper on the ground. When Chris and Tina later meet up with the man, Chris murders him in a fit of temporary rage.

Tina, still giddy over the honeymoon-like vacation, decides to help him dump the body and clean up the evidence. When Chris continues to rant about how many rude people there are in the world, she begins to buy into his worldview. Soon, she finds herself noticing rudeness that she had overlooked before and getting pretty angry about it. Before she realizes it, she not only becomes complicit in the murders Chris is committing but also begins to get her hands bloody by helping him. The two lovebirds convince themselves that they are doing something good for the environment, because a dead person doesn't emit carbon into the atmosphere. This "green" killing theory is hilarious, and it perfectly matches the black humor of the entire movie. The violence escalates but always stays comic book-like, with the producers even employing "splat!" sounds to make the violence as cartoonish and funny as possible.

Lowe and Oram are reasonably well-known in England for their comic routines but are relatively unknown outside of the UK. Once "Sightseers" gets a proper release across the globe, that is all likely to change. These two have star power and screen presence by themselves, but put them together in the same film and it is like capturing lightning in a bottle. They both have boundless energy and great acting skills that really sell the characters to the audience. It isn't unusual in this day and age to have an antihero at the center of a film, but it is unusual for the antihero to be so much fun. In an entertainment world full of serial killers who take themselves very seriously like "Dexter," "Sightseers" is the class clown that will make you laugh even as you are slightly shocked by what is transpiring.

Lowe and Oram sell Chris and Tina not only because of their great acting but also because of their great writing. The duo teamed up to pen the screenplay based on characters they had been developing for years. They also set the movie in the area of England where both of them hail from in real life, which made it easier to write scenes. Not only were they familiar with the characters that they had been fine tuning for years but they were also familiar with the setting. This is likely why both actors look so comfortable in the skin of their murderous alter egos, which helps the audience want to root for them even as they do bad things.

Director Ben Wheatley is something of an expert in dark comedies, having previously directed "Kill List" in 2011 and "Down Terrace" two years before that. They are both very dark comedies that challenge the audience to laugh, even when something bad, illegal, immoral, or all three is happening on the screen. It is no surprise then that filmmaker Edgar Wright, having seen a short film that Lower and Oram put together, chose to give a copy of the short to Wheatley. It is a project that almost seems like it was tailor-made for him to direct with his usual mix of sardonic humor and nefarious deeds. It's a potent combination that he puts to good use in "Sightseers," which may end up being one of the best comedies of 2013 when all is said and done.

Rating: 3 out of 5