Fantastic Fest 2012: ‘Sightseers’ unveils beauty and absurdity within the most twisted fantasies

Directed by Ben Wheatley
Screenplay by Steve Oram, Alice Lowe, and Amy Jump
2012, UK

Ben Wheatley just keeps making great movies. Furthermore, they keep getting better. Continuing in the naturalistic direction of his first two film’s while softening the sharper edges, Sightseers is Wheatley’s prettiest, funniest, and most mature film yet. If it lacks the propulsive insanity of Kill List, it more than makes up for it with its own unique blend of barely subdued chaos and twisted romance.

Sightseers opens with a ginger-bearded Chris (Steve Oram) collecting his girlfriend, Tina (Alice Lowe) from the grasp of her overbearing and manipulative mother to take her on holiday in his RV. The two make for a delightfully dorky couple, and among their intended destinations are the Tramway and Pencil Museums. But the mood sours at the Tramway Museum as Chris spots an inconsiderate patron littering on an historic tram. Spotting him later at a petrol station, Chris backs his RV over him.

Taking a familiar trope–the cold-blooded couple on the run–and entrapping it within a black british comedy about a pleasant middle-class couple proves a great success. Oram and Lowe do a stunning job with difficult types, and Lowe, especially, has crafted a brilliant study of a woman in desperate and fruitless search of autonomy. It’s a testament to the actors that the insane (and felonious) behavior of both characters is not only believable, but adds depth to the relationship drama that drives the film. The way Sightseers builds logically from its quiet, naturalistic opening to its blunt and bloody conclusion is a commendable and inscrutable feat.

Throughout it all, too, Sightseers is completely hilarious–certainly Wheatley’s funniest work to date. Oram plays his sociopath with cool and wholesome dignity, and Lowe’s range of emotion makes her the unexpected comic highlight. The rest of the cast, largely bit characters, fill out what ends up being a unique and exaggerated, but still familiar, world. This is a road thriller in any superficial sense, but in every other sense it is Ben Wheatley’s playground. For the third time in a row, he has invited us into that world and unveiled the beauty and absurdity that exists within the most twisted fantasies.

-Emmet Duff

Fantastic Fest runs September 20th – September 27th.

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