Sightseers is a deliciously nasty, very funny black comedy about a Midlands couple who embark on a caravan holiday visiting mundane British tourist attractions which takes a detour into murder and doesn’t turn back.
Tina lives with her mother Carol, a bitter harridan who blames Tina for the accidental death of their beloved dog and wants to control every morsel of her daughter’s existence. Tina is excited at the prospect of going on a caravan holiday with her recently acquired (and seemingly first ever) boyfriend Chris, who is loathed by Carol for the very fact that his presence challenges her stifling hold over her daughter.
Despite Carol’s antipathy, Tina and Chris excitedly head off on their road trip, and it soon becomes apparent that nerdy Chris has very rigid ideas about what constitutes socially acceptable behaviour or the sort of people who find favour with him. When a slobbish litterbug fails to heed Chris’ imprecations not to toss his rubbish on the ground, Chris’ rage boils over and he ‘accidentally’ runs him over; Tina is relatively unfazed after the initial shock of the killing, and it’s soon apparent that the lovers share more than a fondness for caravans as they embark on a bloody UK tour that’s more Fred and Rosemary West than Bonnie and Clyde.
While Sightseers will be marketed as writer-director Ben Wheatley’s follow-up to last year’s bleak and uncompromising Kill List, it’s really the creation of writers and lead performers Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, who play Tina and Chris. The pair first devised the characters doing live comedy and then for an unsold TV pilot which was, according to Lowe, rejected by every UK broadcaster for being too dark. What sets the film apart from similar horror comedies is how keenly observed the characters of Tina and Chris are; there is a wealth of detail about the decidedly unworldly pair and their relationship that rings true, even within the context of the broad premise.
As this is meant to be Tina’s first romantic relationship, she acts like a love-struck teenager despite her age, eagerly doing everything she can to please her man and becoming petulant when he acts insensitively. Chris, being a bit more experienced, cleverly uses his limited charms including the all-important caravan to woo her, but being somewhat inept and immature (not to mention sociopathic) is clueless as to why she gets annoyed with him when, for example, he befriends a male cyclist at a campground and virtually ignores her. These emotional details ground the film in a sort of mundane poignancy that makes the insanity (and inanity) of the couple’s murders that much funnier.
Sightseers achieves the relatively rare feat of striking the right balance between sharply observed characterisation and jet black humour that takes it beyond the absurd, and Chris and Tina are assured of finding many who will be gleefully willing to join them on their dream vacation.