Sightseers (Ben Wheatley, 2012)

“He’s not a person, he’s a Daily Mail reader!”

When I watched Ben Wheatley’s second feature-film Kill List, I couldn’t help but recall Shane Meadows Dead Man’s Shoes. Both films centered around assassin-like killers who lived within poverty-stricken areas while both films technically shot (primarily) hand-held and were rooted in Brit-realism. Whereas following Dead Man’s Shoes, Meadows continued to explore Brit-realism and drama in early 80’s-set This is England, it seems Ben Wheatley has veered into comedy territory with Sightseers. With Edgar Wright producing, Wheatley utilises the writing and acting talents of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and The Mighty Boosh regulars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram respectively. Wheatley has moved into a completely different direction that surely shows his flexibility and diverse skill-set. That’s not to say that Kill List and Sightseers have nothing in common, but considering Wheatley wrote and directed episodes of a comedy-series The Wrong Door and even directed a documentary on Steve Coogan, it may be that Ben Wheatley is more Edgar Wright than he is Shane Meadows.


Set in the North of England, we join Chris (Oram) and Tina (Lowe) as they travel from the city-scape of Redditch and onwards into Yorkshire, passing by quirky caravan stop-offs and pencil museums. Chris and Tina are ‘those’ people who seem to thoroughly enjoy caravanning and visiting obscure tourist attractions. Head to toe in cajoules and walking-boots, Chris and Tina, we feel like we know – but something isn’t exactly ‘right’ about them. A small confrontation with a litterer soon ends in tragedy – with, initially, an ambiguity over whether it was purposeful or not. In either case Chris and Tina are a little too comfortable with the death of a fellow man.

A comparison made by Ben Walters in Sight & Sound, is Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May. Mike Leigh’s kitchen-sink drama’s do seem to be a clear connection to Sightseers – especially within the middle-aged, middle-class couples our travellers meet. The other comparison, interestingly, would be Bonnie & Clyde, as we are regularly told about the “search” for the murderers on the local radio-station our culprits listen to.

The Wrong Tarantino Film

Co-writer and actor Steve Oram compares murder in Sightseers to murder in a Hollywood film; “Tarantino does it and it’s really cool – and then we come along and we’re wearing cajoules and being Brummies”. He explains how it is “an American idea, but done in an English way”. This is Sightseers strongest asset as this thoroughly ‘English’ depiction of the beauty and character of the UK country is something we rarely see across the cinema-screen – indeed, the last time I recall such beauty was the landscape shots that appear in the Scotland-based, final-act of Skyfall.

This country-village sentiment goes a long way when reflecting on British comedies too – especially Edgar Wright’s output in Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. Hot Fuzz particularly has a stronger connection to Sightseers than Wheatley maybe lets on. The countryside peace; the strange characters in villages; the murder and death – and sudden-moments of gore. The difference is the realism Wheatley feeds into the story – and the subtext regarding social-classes (Chris has been made redundant while Tina is a carer for her insulting and argumentative Mother). Does Wheatley believe that the constant change in economic status within communities in Britain will explode? Akin to Falling Down – something will have to snap.

It is this underlying tension that is truly terrifying. The moments of gore are all played for shock – and they are often followed by strange mannerisms and statements by our lead couple cushioning the blow. The use of a hammer in Kill List seems to linger with you throughout the film – and remains an unexpected, deeply shocking moment. Sightseers doesn’t hold such horror – but it does get under your skin in a different way. Surely, people are angry; and it is only a matter of time before their anger and outsider status becomes a purpose for reaction. Tina and Chris’ reaction is clearly excessive – but the frustration they feel is something that the current climate knows all too-well.

Originally written/published on Flickering Myth on 23 March 2013

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