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Sightseers Review: An Exercise in Hilariously Dark Restraint

Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers could be one of the most restrained and effective dark comedies ever put to film. So subversive and wry is his approach to both aspects of horror and mirth a less observant eye could view the whole endeavour as a disastrous misfire. But for fans of British humour, those appreciative of generally brave filmmaking and most importantly of slasher movie tropes, this is a little gem unlike anything available so far this year.  That is not to say Wheatley’s quieted course is flawless, as there are times when the film’s very nature undermines its pacing and oft gleeful energy but there is something to be said for sticking to one’s guns. It’s not hard to see why Hot Fuzz and Sean of the Dead filmmaker Edgar Wright jumped on as a producer immediately after he came across the screenplay by Steve Oram and Alice Lowe (also the film’s leads) as Sightseers and those masterful satires share a common soul. Nor is it a surprise that Wheatley took a liking to the material, as the direction in which the film ultimately goes is perfectly in line with the path utilized with his previous effort Kill List. That is to say the man now has his filmmaking identity: you never know how his endeavours are going to conclude. Sightseers finds Oram’s Chris and Lowe’s Tina embarking on a cross-country RV trip despite the whining and manipulative objection of Tina’s over-protective mother, with whom she still resides. These two, it seems, share a deep connection, in that they are both awkward outcasts in need of some iota of freedom. Taking in all the joy that can be provided by pencil factories and streetcar museums, it soon becomes readily apparent that some violent happenstance is following this couple and that the “threat” may be closer than envisioned.  With this sarcastic material, the filmmakers are able to wring laughs out of situations that don’t even have a punch line, hell; they don’t need a punch line. The very act of visiting some of these boring landmarks insights chuckles and the delivery of the dialogue by the leads drives it all home. I don’t want to go too deeply into more winding elements of Sightseers but I will say that it puts a wickedly hilarious spin on serial killer tropes. It even manages to displace established sympathies and have the murderer become the pseudo-victim in the vein that the acts are propelled by immediate surroundings and even seem inconvenient and burdensome at times. Then there are the more overt stabs (sorry) at dark humour in which sizeable quantities of crimson are splashed across the screen in gleeful fashion. The instances of bloodshed are also kindled by the very tone of the film in that since we both simultaneously like and hate everybody on screen anyways, the kills elicit a gasp and shrug at the same time. Normally having a film evoke a feeling of indifference would be a deal-breaker, but since everything in Sightseers is supposed to be so nonchalant, it achieves another layer of gravitas instead.   While I certainly wouldn’t seek to claim that Sightseers will be for everyone, it’s hard to imagine those who dig this kind of filmmaking leaving a showing with anything less than a wide grin. It’s all a collection of sure-handed elements executed with aplomb and incites a great deal of confidence in what Wheatley and his collaborators will churn out next.


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