What a marvellous surprise. Despite the tremendous promise of the trailer that was shown at this year’s FrightFest, I was still a bit unsure as to what I would think of director Ben Wheatley’s latest effort. I needn’t have worried. SIGHTSEERS is very, very good indeed, and is the equivalent of such brilliant blacker than black BBC TV comedy fare like the first series of Julia Davis’ NIGHTY NIGHT, or her work with Rob Brydon in HUMAIN REMAINS. In fact the couple in SIGHTSEERS could easily have been a half hour in that show. Thankfully their adventures easily make for a ninety minute feature which is good for us, and good for the reputation of British cinema. There hasn't been anything quite as funny, disturbing, quirky, unpleasant and yet endearing as this on the big screen for as long as I can remember.
Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, who also wrote the script, play Tina and Chris. Tina is the archetypal thirty-four year old woman who has never had a relationship and still lives with her domineering witch of a mother, knitting her own underwear and dreaming of romance in faraway places like Redditch. Chris is a ginger bearded plastics engineer who is ‘on sabbatical’ and has a penchant for caravanning and tram museums. They’ve been going out together (whatever that may mean in their world) for three months, but now it’s a big moment in their relationship: their first holiday together. Their itinerary will include such British tourist standbys as Blue John Cavern, Ribblehead viaduct, and a pencil museum. It will also include a number of murders as members of the general public do tiny things to rile Chris and cause him to do them in in increasingly unpleasant ways. Initially horrified by this, Tina soon starts to get in on the act herself, especially when she catches the bride-to-be at a particularly awful hen party trying to get it on with her man.
It’s rare that a film is actually able to live up to the poster claim of ‘Instant Cult Classic’ but SIGHTSEERS may well be it. It’s a film that encapsulates perfectly a specific type of British holiday and indeed British holidaymaker. Where it scored in spades for me was that it doesn’t shy away from the horror aspects of what is going on. It would have been easy to make SIGHTSEERS a charmingly quirky comedy about a couple who just happen to kill people. What director Ben Wheatley does for an already splendid script is give it a sense of depth, atmosphere, and realism that means that often you’re laughing at things and then realising you’re properly disturbed by them. Jam packed with quotable lines (“He’s not a person, he’s a Daily Mail reader,” “Every time I find my oeuvre someone shits on it”) SIGHTSEERS is a film whose reputation will grow and grow. I suspect it will do very well in Europe and will either be a fantastic hit or a colossal miss in America, in the same way no-one would have been able to guess how Monty Python would do there.
SIGHTSEERS is really great and I loved it. Writing about it now has made me want to watch it again and I no doubt shall. In the meantime get down to your local cinema and support a bit of homegrown British comedy horror brilliance that we can all be proud of.