Usually when people vacation in the countryside they intend to clear their heads–not lose them. But if you’re one of those snobby tourists, then filmmaker Ben Wheatley might have some grisly disagreements with you.
Wheatley’s third film, Sightseers, follows middle-aged couple Chris and Tina (Steve Oram and Alice Lowe) on their seemingly normal tour of the English countryside. Chris is looking for inspiration for a new book and Tina is along to be his “muse” (as well as to allow her time away from her nagging mother, played by Eileen Davies). Caught up in the infatuating throes of their new relationship, all goes well until they cross paths with some irritating personalities on their tour and Chris decides to take out his unrequited anger on them in a most graphic and fatalistic way. At first, Tina responds only with shock, debating whether or not enduring the rest of the vacation with her murderous new boyfriend would be harmful to her well-being. But gradually, Tina warms up to the idea of offing those of great annoyance–in fact, a bit too warmly, which threatens to turn her relationship’s dynamics on its head.
As with his two previous films, Down Terrace and Kill List, Wheatley seems to continue constructing his films with a sense of apathy. He seems to keep a great distance between his stories and their audiences, making for a trying effort to become at all engrossed in his exaggerated realities. Similarly, character development is sparse and painstakingly incremental. When we finally we get to really know the characters of Chris and Tina, it feels way too late in the plot to play much significance anymore. This wouldn’t be such an issue if the film was more plot-centric but it doesn’t have that intricate of a plot to begin with, subsequently making it feel like a detached and unemotional effort.
Oram and Lowe are occasionally charming in the monotonously deadpan, quirky sense of the word, but it’s the best they can do with the material that they’re given. Their characters’ homicidal tendencies are never really elaborated upon, which makes their acts of violence–though satisfyingly gory for fans of the bizarre and offbeat–seem empty and pointless. Though perhaps that is the point, and keeping the audience emotionally distant is what’s necessary in order to tolerate their actions. But emotional isolation doesn’t work when it hinders narrative involvement, especially when such a mood is sustained throughout the entire film.
Granted, the film does have a silver lining or two. It was a relief to see the narrative take a turn down “amateur serial killer hour” road rather than the “declare war on rude mannerisms” path it teased in its first act. As a result, such dark material still elicited some hearty laughs.
Sightseers is a dark, bloody, and occasionally comedic romp through the realms of British realism, black comedy, and horror, but its callous approach and aimless results leave more to be desired. Follow your tour guide and seek out an alternative route.