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British director Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers is a comedy about a 30-ish couple taking a caravan holiday across the English countryside, but what ensues isn’t exactly a Vacation-like romp. It’s dark, it’s odd, and—although you’ll often laugh—it’s pretty horrible. Consider that Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright is a producer, and you’ll get a pretty clear idea of its tone.
Tina (Alice Lowe) plays the somewhat sheltered daughter of her miserable, bitter mother (Eileen Davies), who is lonely and angry after the death of her terrier, Poppy. Even though she’s apparently not very fond of Tina, she’s against her vacationing with her boyfriend of three months, Chris (Steve Oram). “I don’t like you,” she tells Chris flat-out, also calling him a murderer, though it’s not clear why. “It was an accident, Mum,” Tina says. To which mother dearest quickly responds, “So were you!”
Rinsing off the bile, Tina and Chris head out, excited about their adventure. Chris is writing a book and tells Tina that she’s his muse. They both seem kindly and happy—until Chris throws a fit over a fellow traveler who doesn’t pick up his litter. And then runs him over. It seems like an accident, and Chris expresses guilt over the suffering he’s put the man’s family through. But was it really a mistake?
Dissecting the film, which Lowe and Oram co-wrote with “additional material” from Amy Jump, is nearly impossible without giving away even a small piece of the plot. Turns out that Chris has, well, serious bloodlust, which Tina initially regards with only mild horror. “You can’t do things like that,” she says after finding out about one of his victims. “It’s going to ruin the holiday.”
Actually, the awful shit becomes their holiday, with the pair doing terrible things like taking over another couple’s identities (and stealing their terrier) or, in Tina’s case, lying that men they encounter have said awful things to her. She becomes increasingly indifferent to Chris’ homicidal side, joking about it and, eventually, behaving in a way that she thinks will impress her boyfriend. “I’m musing!” she says with a smile as another innocent goes down. But he quickly becomes irritated with her acceptance and desire to copycat, telling her—ridiculously—that she’s a “negative influence.”
Lowe and Oram deliver loony performances that are spot-on delusional for this kind of film, throughout which you will probably think, “This is fucking weird.” Tina acts like a crazy-eyed but largely cheery cult member even when Chris is at his angriest, and even though she says she understands the motivation behind his behavior (“It’s just about personal empowerment!”), viewers may not be so clear. It doesn’t really matter, though. The ink-black humor is entertaining enough, and the sheer strangeness of the plot developments will keep you hooked. The end is either very sad or very funny, depending on your mood. But you can’t argue that, considering what precedes it, the final scene isn’t pretty damn perfect.