Opens Fri., June 14 at Varsity. Not rated. 89 minutes.
A geeky devotion to roadside attractions might directly correspond to an impulse to murder—or so it is suggested in Sightseers, a British black comedy with a gory backbeat. Come for the Tramway Village in Crich or the Pencil Museum in Keswick, stay for the head-bashing. The tourists are Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe), who’ve been dating a few weeks. Chris is the roadside enthusiast, a big red-bearded lunk who likes to drive his caravan to remote areas of the Midlands. To take their first road trip together, Alice must part from her nasty mother, a cranky lady who still blames her daughter for the accidental death of the family dog.
Death, accidental and otherwise, will follow the happy couple as they travel. Though apparently amiable, Chris has some very strict ideas about acceptable behavior—he is English, after all. Rudeness, littering, or acting above one’s station will set him off in ways that rapidly become homicidal. Tina is herself not entirely balanced. In fact, the two appear meant for each other; one of the film’s most amusing strokes is the suggestion that despite their antisocial tendencies, these two lunatics might actually be in love.
Their quietly crackpot interaction is easily the best part of Sightseers, and can be chalked up to a longstanding personal and professional partnership between Oram and Lowe—stand-up comedians who developed their script onstage. Director Ben Wheatley, who’s made a name for himself in recent years with edgy fare (Down Terrace, Kill List), does not make any of this cute. (Well, maybe except for the giant pencil on sale at the Keswick gift shop.) When the murders happen, blood erupts and skulls cave in—this is satire carved with a cleaver.
Is it anything new? Not really. Though more explicit here, the dark humor is in line with a brand of British comedy that stretches back to Kind Hearts and Coronets. Two things give Sightseers a leg up: The location shooting is a canny counterpoint to the violence, so that a visit to a stone circle—a place of probable ritual sacrifice—somehow makes perfect sense as a spot for a new murder. And the comic delivery of Oram and Lowe is spot-on. Nobody self-satirizes like the English, and in these two clueless travelers, we have a merciless portrait of centuries of civilization gone wrong.