Sightseers starts out innocently enough. A cute couple, not married but new to each other set out on a road trip across the U.K. Close-ups during the opening credits of a map suggest an idyllic tour of ley lines and historical places; like the Cumberland Pencil Museum; or Blur John Cavern; or Mother Shipton’s Cave. But as the story actually starts you realize that this will not be an ordinary trip.
Director Ben Wheatley who usually writes his scripts has found a story (by Amy Jump, Alice Lowe, and Steve Oram) that easily fits into his convoluted cosmology. Wheatley, in fact, may be the new go-to English director for the current zeitgeist. All I know is that with Sightseers Wheatley has moved to the front of the cool movie director’s line.
Wheatley’s previous films include Down Terrace and Kill List, and he also helmed a segment of The ABCs of Death. Wheatley has an unusual yet quite brilliant capacity to mix genres and to suddenly push his audience, quite unexpectedly, into black comedy. Sightseers (from 2012) is quite frankly one of the best films I’ve seen this year. Wheatley’s newest film, A Field in England, has opened in the U.K. and will be distributed domestically by Alamo Drafthouse Films next year. In the meantime, it’s time to show a little love for Sightseers, a bizarre excursion into relationships, cute dogs, camping, and how to respectfully deal with people who litter.
Pay attention to photos of the family dog at the beginning as the canine pops up later in the film. Likewise the opening theme music suggests a world slightly out of balance only to break into “Tainted Love,” which underscores the odd relationship between Chris (Oram) and Tina (Lowe). While leaving the first stop on their trip Steve runs over a man by accident. Or was it, as a quick cut-away shot to Steve’s rear view mirror may suggest otherwise. But the couple has metaphorically tasted blood and seems to be on the verge of going on a killing spree. The real question becomes at what point they will either cease or go over the edge.
Sightseers is playing in an exclusive engagement at the Alamo Drafthouse Vintage Park starting July 12.
- Michael Bergeron