At the start of a new relationship, it’s always smart to keep watch for any glaring warning signs that your new crush may be mentally unstable. There’s no place on OkCupid to list mental health problems, so it’s up to you to spot them and decide to duck out or endure. Prescription anti-psychotic meds in the cabinet, an alarming amount of dead cats in the neighborhood – shit like that should throw up red flags. Or purposely running people down in a caravan or bashing them to death with a large stick. This is the situation facing Alice Lowe, the star of Ben Wheatley’s nasty little film Sightseers.
Wheatley’s follow-up to the absolutely unnerving thriller Kill List is far more accessible and straight-forward, while also being cruel and dark and hilarious. Alice Lowe stars as Tina, a sheltered woman who lives with her oppressive mother. Tina’s weighed down by her mum’s imperialistic manner and her guilt over inadvertently causing the death of their beloved dog, Poppy. Her own reprieve is her new boyfriend, Chris (Steve Oram). He invites Tina along on a week-long caravan holiday through the lush greenery and small towns of the countryside. While the mother grumpily broods at them through the window, Chris and Tina take off.
Shortly into the trip, as Tina is enjoying her freedom, she realizes that Chris is a bit on edge. A litterbug, a drum circle, a pretentious writer – everything seems to send Chris off the rails. And before she knows it, she’s in the middle of a countryside murder-spree.
As her and Chris travel through campsites and rolling hills (everything was shot on location and it’s all gorgeous), it’s apparent that Chris follows a strict moral code, which basically entails murdering any upper-class snob who talks down to you. He’s obsessed with socio-econmic status and uses it to justify his murders. For instance, after savagely killing a hiker who demanded they pick up dog shit, Chris explains to Tina that centuries before, he would have been the man’s servant. He states “He’s not a human, he’s a ‘Daily Mail’ reader.”
While Chris does the bulk of the homicides, it’s clearly Tina’s transformation from repressed ninny to sexually adventurous murderer that’s at the heart of the film. Chris is already a psychopath at the beginning of their trip, but Tina transforms into one. She does so out of disgust over Chris’ tendencies and because she doesn’t need another person telling her what to do – her mother already gives her enough shit. When Tina starts killing on her own, Chris gets pissed off. She’s an empowering character and Alice Lowe gives a knockout performance.
Like Kill List, Sightseers is filled with wonderfully shot gore. It’s a bright film shot mostly outdoors and the flourishes of bright red blood against lush greens look beautiful. Ben Wheatley is surely one of the best artists of bleak humor and breathtaking violence working today. The script (written by stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram) is wickedly sharp with spot-on comedic beats. Although the humor mixed with the absurd gives the film a quirky, almost silly tone, the cutthroat images and ruthless characters still makes Sightseers one mean, nasty little film.- Patrick Cooper