The Pitch: Oh, living in a house, a small wheeled house in the country! Got relationship deceit and some murd’rous feats in the country! Count-ra-a-aaay! (with apologies to Blur)
The Review: I’ve never quite understood the appeal of caravans. Even in the UK, there are so many fine hotels, B & Bs and hostels that the idea of packing up a few treasured possessions in a small house on wheels and setting off for a muddy field with a communal bathroom. But if you absolutely want to make your own itinerary, then they’re probably idea, but it still takes a certain kind of person to want to go caravanning; possibly a little nerdy, certainly very British, and maybe with a tendency to murder people at the slightest provocation. (Wait, what?) Yes, there is apparently a fine line between genial and insane, and the new film from director Ben Wheatley takes a journey to the heart of a very British darkness.
The story stems from an original idea by Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, who started playing the two characters on stage, thought of a move to TV, but then executive producer Edgar Wright and director Wheatley got involved and the adventures of Tina and Chris (Lowe and Oram playing the characters as well as scripting alongside Wheatley’s co-writer from Kill List, Amy Jump) as they trek round some of the British countryside’s more esoteric delights, from the Crich Tramway Museum to the Keswick Pencil Museum. Along the way, they meet a variety of the countryside’s typical residents, but it quickly becomes clear that neither Tina nor Chris is equipped with a full set of social skills, and what start as minor irritations soon turn into something much more threatening.
It might be better described as a bleak comedy rather than a black one, given the isolated settings, but Sightseers certainly doesn’t skimp on the comedy itself. It’s clear that Lowe and Oram have a lot of love for the characters they’ve created, and their actions and reactions to the world around them feel both perfectly grounded and just the right side of creepy. Of the two, it’s Lowe who probably has the slight edge, Tina being afforded a slightly better selection of the choicest lines and also getting the more thoughtful character arc. She also has the advantage of an overbearing, housebound mother (Eileen Davies) to feed off for further character development, and it’s with Tina that your sympathies are most likely to be engaged.
The other star of the film is the British countryside, with carefully chosen venues that Sightseers avoids poking fun at, although there are some great gags squeezed out of a couple (most notably the pencil museum). The film tries not to play its hand too early, with Wheatley employing a leisurely pace – arguably a little too leisurely – in the opening scenes before the nature of the pair’s trip forces them to pick up the tempo. Just occasionally, Wheatley’s reach exceeds his grasp and the budget restrictions expose themselves, but not in any of the murderous episodes, where the claret is liberally spilled and the weaker stomachs in the audience may find themselves turning over slightly. For a film with such big backdrops, it does occasionally still feel very small scale, but there’s much to like in the tale of Tina and Chris; I don’t know if it’s going to make any caravan converts though, you just never know who might be staying in the next pitch…
Why see it at the cinema: Ben Wheatley does make absolutely the most of the country locations – a little too much on occasion – but as long as you can find an audience with the same sensibility, there should be plenty of communal laughs. (Possibly not the audience I saw it with, where the other six people on the front row all walked out before the end. Their loss.)
The Score: 8/10