Staff Review/ Sightseers

Cornerhouse AV Technician Dave Petty reviews Sightseers

Ben Wheatley, back with his third film Sightseers, is managing to carve a relatively new niche genre in cinema – the social realist horror. Admittedly that might sound potentially god-awful to some, and it’s not as if it’s entirely his own construct – the MiniDV grit of 28 Days Later and the brit-horror stylings of Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) are no doubt influences. But if any directors are to be earmarked as Wheatley’s reference points, I’d hazard a guess at Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, Tony Richardson. But with far more blood, spit and bile thrown at the screen than all three of them could ever muster.

If you’ve seen Kill List, Wheatley’s 2010 sophomore effort, you’ll feel in familiar territory from the off – a dark, tangible sense of dread seems to seep from the screen with almost effortless ease (bear in mind this is a comedy produced by Edgar Wright, no less). Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) are a somewhat naïve couple in the early stages of their blossoming relationship, escaping from Tina’s domineering mother for a caravan tour of Britain. Taking in what some might consider true gems of our tourist industry (Keswick’s Pencil Museum and Crich Tramway Village – who HASN’T been?!), it doesn’t take long before the cracks start to appear in Chris’s psyche, visibly and vocally disgusted by a fellow tourist dropping litter on a heritage tram. What would be an incident of minor consequence to most is of serious concern to Chris, and events take a decidedly dark turn for the worst – events that Tina, surprisingly, isn’t entirely unhappy with.

It’s a stunningly beautiful film in places, with some epic wide shots and hilltop sunsets showing the best of Britain, even in the rain and hail. But the best of Britain is far from what Sightseers is about, and as a blacker-than-black comedy it scores high marks across the board. Both the leads are superb, their actions for the most part beyond reprehensible, yet you never fail to care about their fate. Chris in particular is a genuinely terrifying creation, and if Steve’s still got his angry ginger beard when he and Wheatley are here for a Q&A on Wed 31 Oct, I’m going to be first out the door. That said, both he and Tina are roundly upstaged by Banjo the dog (or is it Poppy?), and it’s no surprise he won the Palm Dog when the film premiered as part of the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes this year to rave reviews.

If you’re expecting Kill List II, you may feel somewhat short-changed. But comparing like for like is surely not what Wheatley is after, Sightseers proving that while he’s a director carving out his own style he’s not afraid to test new waters. That said, it’s still a brutal, chilling film, but coated in such a flawless black comedy veneer that you can easily forget just how shocking it is.

Now, has anyone seen Banjo…?

Sightseers previews at Cornerhouse on Wed 31 October with a special post-screening Q&A with director Ben Wheatley and lead actor/co-writer Steve Oram. Buy tickets here. The film will screen on general release from Fri 30 November.