MSN Movies Blog

Fantastic Fest Review: 'Sightseers'

'The Trip' meets 'God Bless America' in this dark comedy about lovers on the run

By William Goss Oct 25, 2012 4:59PM
Grade: 4/5

Despite genre-hopping from darkly funny crime dramas (“Down Terrace”) and bleak, unnerving thrillers (“Kill List”) into the arena of romantic comedy, Ben Wheatley’s secret weapon in his works to date has been his ability to make a body count count for something, and “Sightseers” is no exception.

Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram) have been together three months now, and it seems about time for them to hit the road on a holiday, complete with planned stops at tram museums, pencil museums and just about any other bland diversion that comes to mind. For Tina, it’s overdue, seeing how Mum refuses to forgive her for the unfortunate death of sweet terrier Poppy. (“It was an accident!” “So were you!”) For Chris, though, it’s overwhelming, what with all the litterbugs and jerks along the way. Once they unwittingly run down such a cad with their caravan, Tina and Chris take to simply murdering anyone who rubs them the wrong way with curious ease.

The way they see it, it’s something of a green initiative. When Chris asks a man to pick up his trash, it’s futile; when a man asks Tina to pick up her dog’s leavings, it’s fatal. The bucolic English countryside serves as a natural backdrop to primal fits of brutality, and the more that these two take lives and souvenirs (including a replacement canine), the more they learn about one another, as crazy in love as they are just plain crazy. In addition to writing the screenplay (and undoubtedly tossing in some improv), Lowe and Oram have played these characters before and get along with wonderfully neurotic chemistry, making it easy to root for their relationship in spite of these newfound habits.

Furthermore, Wheatley and wife/co-writer Amy Jump seem to stay out of their way. Kicking things off with a too-perfect cue of “Tainted Love,” they incorporate different kinds of humor ranging from the sincere to the surreal, and I’ll be damned if Wheatley doesn’t redeem the once-exhausted pet reaction shot in the face of such grim laughs. Laurie Rose remains his director of photography and continues to strike a visual balance between the seemingly impulsive and the plainly beautiful that complements the script’s tricky tonal tightrope walk.

The shaggy pacing does reach a point where “Sightseers” threatens to overstay its welcome, but the striking nature of the ending feels oddly revelatory, informing what’s come before without being a twist so much as a confirmation of character. That such a foundation remains beneath the blood and banter speaks well to Wheatley’s craft, and as has been the case twice before, I can’t wait to see what the man does next.

IFC Films plans to release “Sightseers” in 2013.
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