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'Sightseers' takes a murderous vacation

The British black comedy "Sightseers," from director Ben Wheatley ("Kill List"), stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram as murderers on a caravanning holiday.

Alice Lowe and Steve Oram play murderers in "Sightseers." Credit: Ben Wheatley Alice Lowe and Steve Oram play murderers on vacation in "Sightseers."
Credit: Ben Wheatley

‘Sightseers’
Director: Ben Wheatley
Stars: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram
Rating: R
4 (out of 5) Globes

It begins innocently enough. Tina (Alice Lowe), a mousy woman-child, heads off with new boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram) for a caravan holiday around the British Isles. It would be lovely and pastoral, reminiscent of Mike Leigh’s English vacay classic “Nuts in May” — were it not for the vaguely ominous music, and if Tina’s mother, with whom she lives, hadn’t just informed her she was an accident. Chris seems unplaceably off, too, getting a mite too ticked at a remorseless litterbug. It won’t be long until Chris accidentally backs over this defiler of nature with his car.

It does genuinely seem an accident, this first murder. The rest will be more conscious. Turns out Chris, whose dorky smile can melt into a hungry scowl, has a thing for bloodily dispatching those who irritate him, including a snooty writer who gets his cranium collapsed with a rock. Tina initially seems too insecure to do anything when she happens upon her lover’s secret. But she soon finds herself happily complicit, even ranking up her own numbers.

“Sightseers” could, and probably should, be redundant, as it relentlessly juxtaposes quaint, English tourist traps — like a pencil museum, which exists — with unspeakable, nasty gore. Director Ben Wheatley is a viral videomaker — his biggest hit, “A Cunning Trick,” features a dude leaping a car before being mowed over by another — turned unclassifiable director, whose main trait seems head trauma. He’s hot off the whatzit horror-thriller thing “Kill List,” whose sights included a man’s head met repeatedly with a hammer. Here, Wheatley cuts out the penetration if not the aftermath, briefly slipping in a shot of a pestering rambler’s face turned into a Picasso.

But there’s a shape to the madness, and a strangely keen insight into early relationships. Chris and Tina don’t quite know each other. But they discover they share a certain kink (which leads to another kink, with homicide sometimes leading to noisy sex). The funniest joke of this darkly funny film is that Chris and Tina are not soulmates, if only because she’s an indiscriminate killer, whereas he’s at least semi-discriminate. There’s a lot of jokes about Tina killing completely innocent people, which actually makes the film more tolerable, even weirdly moral. A truly cynical film would have found reasons for their victims to be murdered. Here, a completely decent guy who’s invented a ridiculous plastic cocoon on wheels for sleeping during bike trips gets killed for no reason. What’s funnier than that?

 
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