Sightseers is a purposely discomforting film and if there is one thing the film achieved, it was being just that.
First premiering at the sidebar event held during Cannes Film Festival called the Director’s Fortnight, Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers is a film that works best when it takes you by surprise, therefore knowing little as possible and avoiding trailers would be beneficial to those who have not seen it before. Sightseers is not all that different than watching a bad car accident in which one finds themselves unable to look away at the horror on display, and after watching the film that comparison will make even more sense. The film is light in terms of its depth but dense with ludicrous deadpan humor.
The song “Tainted Love” covered by Soft Cell was carefully selected and is appropriately placed near the beginning of the film when a couple embarks on a caravan holiday through the north part of England. There is a suggestion that Tina’s (Alice Lowe) newfound boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram) is her first love at the age of 34. This may be due to her controlling mother Carol (Eileen Davies) who blames Tina for the death of their beloved family dog after an accident involving her knitting needles. Now that she is finally away from her mother and outside the house, Tina’s true self comes to light, and it is disturbing.
Though at first glance Chris seems innocent enough, he is also no saint. At the beginning Carol is seen bluntly telling Chris that she does not care for him and calls him a murder. But we must take her outbursts with a grain of salt because the woman seems straight up crazy. The film quickly morphs into a twisted black comedy after a litterbug refuses to pick up his litter in front of the couple at the Tramway Museum they are visiting. In order to avoid spoilers, I will not reveal all the details and speak rather vaguely. The important thing to know is that Sightseers is very much dark, terrifying, and strangely humorous all at the same time.
While the script bounces back and forth between being unsettling and comical, some parts of Sightseers definitely work better than others. Cringing is plentiful in this film from the brief but graphic images that the film does not shy away on but also from some of the humor that simply does not land. But one thing that constantly works well is the imagery on the screen. The beauty of the countryside scenery found within Wheatley’s film serves as a nice juxtaposition to the deformity of behavior shown in the film.
Both Steve Oram and Eileen Davies do a commendable job playing characters that the audience can feel little for but yet are interesting enough not to completely abandon them. To say that these characters are simply flawed would be a gross understatement. These two people show only very brief signs of normal behavior as the film spends most of the time highlighting just how unstable they really are. The song “Tainted Love” describes the couple’s demented relationship impeccably well, which is likely the reason it plays two times during the film.
Sightseers is a purposely discomforting film and if there is one thing the film achieved, it was being just that. Your mileage may vary on the black comedy side of things as there are scenes that will make you laugh out loud and others that will leave you scratching your head. Even though the film is quite absurd and takes a few unexpected turns, most of what happens is forecasted well before it happens. Outside of the beginning where it takes a pretty big turn, there are no real surprises and the film gets less and less interesting as it goes along.