Made in Britain: Sightseers (2012)

Sightseers-cover

This was one of my most anticipated films of last year, that slipped by me through a variety of shameful cock ups and laziness. Nevertheless, I’d been waiting for Ben Wheatley’s third film since I saw Kill List and he’s currently batting 100% with me as I also really enjoyed Down Terrace, albeit for different reasons than the more visceral follow up. So, the news that he was taking a script written by Darkplace’s Alice Lowe and Steve Oram about a psychotic pair of ramblers had me curious. What would a director such as Wheatley do with a concept that is best described as black as midnight comedy? The answer was last year’s Sightseers.

Contains knitted crotchless panties and spoilers below.

You've just sat in dog poo, love.

You’ve just sat in dog poo, love.

Tina (Lowe) lives a pretty rotten life. Stuck in a midlands semi with a demanding and vindictive mother (Eileen Davies), she really hasn’t a lot to look forward to. However, things are looking up, as her new boyfriend Chris (Oram) is taking her on a caravanning Holiday. If going caravanning could remotely be accused of ever being something to look forward to. There’s just one minor problem, aside from that Caravanning is a horrible experience, and that’s that Chris is a serial killer with severe anger management issues. Sightseers follows their increasingly psychotic trip around Derbyshire, South Yorkshire and the Lake District as the stresses in their relationship appear and the bodies start to pile up.

Filmed in Cumbria, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, Sightseers does contain a lot of  impressive scenery. Now if only Chris could remember where he buried the hooker.

Filmed in Cumbria, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, Sightseers does contain a lot of impressive scenery. Now if only Chris could remember where he buried the hooker.

Sightseers started out life as part of Lowe and Oram’s stand up routine. Actually, both of them are accomplished comic actors (Lowe in particular), and it these are a wryly humorous pair of characters. There’s an element of tragedy underpinning both of them (Chris was just made redundant) that informs their behaviour without actually becoming the focal point. They are, admittedly, ramblers and I mean this in every sense- their “holiday” hasn’t a purpose, it’s just an extended and destination free traipse around some pretty stunning countryside.

I'm queen of the world... Wait, shit, wrong film

I’m queen of the world… Wait, shit, wrong film

This is a film essentially about how mundane evil can be. It was long a joke when I was a kid that if we saw Ramblers on the moors then they were looking for somewhere to dispose of a dead hooker. Sightseers is 90 minutes of that joke come to life. Everything about this couple screams out banality- their dress, him driving a Volvo, their food choices, and, even the destinations they visit, with the arguable exception of the Blue John Mines are mind-numbing. Hell, I went to some of these places as part of school trips when I was young, and can confirm that there is little in God’s own universe more boring than the tram museum. Ultimately, even the murders themselves become banal- Chris and Tina aren’t righteous avenging angels, they’re grubby killers, slaughtering their way through the countryside for the most petty of reasons (Littering, complaining, jealousy, irritation etc). There’s no high motive for their spree, and there’s no real justice being served here. These aren’t romanticised Bonny and Clyde in Gore-tex killers, but are instead the most boring and unimaginatively tiresome couple that you could ever hope to avoid.

Never trust a man with a ginger beard. Particularly not one that insists on standing with his back to the sun.

Never trust a man with a ginger beard. Particularly not one that insists on standing with his back to the sun.

Both Lowe and Oram are talented, and their performances (complete with grating flat-vowelled Midland’s accents) are pretty much note perfect. Lowe is creepy in a psychotic sort of way, and Oram isn’t so much a figure of towering rage as an impotent and fuming little man with a sadistic streak. They both wrote the script, and the first half contains many genuinely stunning jokes and lines (the “Daily Mail Reader” one used in the trailer is probably the high point). The second half of the film, which really charts Tina embracing the madness isn’t as on point, and much more comfortable when Davies’ tyrannical mother isn’t looming over Tina’s actions and as such the film turns into a kind of extended ramble itself. There’s no obvious destination here. This is cinematic caravanning. Well, not that bad, but you get the drift- the film just meanders along with no real dramatic tension and no escalation of events towards an end telegraphed in the first 20 minutes.

Tina borrowed Droid's review pencil to write her postcard.

Tina borrowed Droid’s review pencil to write her postcard.

The problem, I suspect, is that Sightseers is a slight film based on a thin gag. It may work as a 5 minute section in a stand up routine, or for a group of 17 year old smart arses sneering at those that participate in that sort of activity, but I’m not convinced that it justifies being spread over feature length. Edgar Wright produced this, and I can see how it appealed to his sensibilities, and for much of the run time it was appealing to mine, but Sightseers really is a very parochial film with a limited audience (I know Droid was far less taken with it than I was). As such, it also feels like a step back for Wheatley and is far less impressive than the brutal assault of Kill List or the relentless misery of Down Terrace. The closest the film comes to either of those two earlier efforts is the murder of the bride to be while a cover of Donovan’s “Season of the Witch” reaches a blistering crescendo, but, alas, this is not typical of the film as a whole.

A bridge.

A bridge.

Overall, despite the tone of this review, Sightseers is a good film. It’s just not the tour de force I was hoping for. There are many, many nice touches here; either visual jokes such as Tina using a ludicrously oversized pencil or in the script (“Yorkshire’s nothing like you said, I can get my favourite pasta sauce and they do smile”), but it all feels terribly lacking and unsatisfactory. Nevertheless, it is amusing and well performed but will eventually go down as a minor footnote in Wheatley’s career. I do recommend Sightseers, as there are far worse ways to pass the time, but It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

sightseers-rating

I suspect, at the end of the day, that this is another film I simply want to like far more than I actually do.

Until next time,

Jarv

Made in Britain

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , ,

About Jarv

Workshy cynic, given to posting reams of nonsense on the internet and watching films that have inexplicably got a piss poor reputation.

33 responses to “Made in Britain: Sightseers (2012)”

  1. Judge Droid says :

    Grammar police!

    You’ve said “caravannig” and also said the daily mail reader joke was in the script, which it is of course, but I think you may mean the trailer.

    • Jarv says :

      Ta.

      Got confused by all the n’s.

      • Jarv says :

        I think it’s better than meh, because the first half sparkles and there are some really good touches in the second half. I think its as the film switches from him to her that it starts to become flatter. The “peak” is the murder of the bride.

        Also, the end, while I didn’t talk about it is really nice. What the film is, I reckon, is the birth of her as serial killer (her mum is fucked when she gets home), but Lowe hasn’t got the chops to be more than creepy. She needed to step up to terrifying in that last shot.

      • Judge Droid says :

        I don’t think it sparkles in the first half. It’s good, but not that good. I’d probably give it a generous 2 out of 4 if I were to rate it. Which I just did.

      • Jarv says :

        Should really have said “for me”. I’m familiar with a lot of these places and ramblers and shit like that. This is partially why I hate the countryside- threats of being made to visit Chatsworth or Bakewell or something and being surrounded by the real version of Chris and Tina.

      • Judge Droid says :

        Yeah, fair enough. Despite my rating, at a pinch I’d say it’s worth a watch. Just keep the expectations in check. I had high expectations going in.

      • Jarv says :

        It’s a funny one, because my expectations had been a bit tempered. So coupled with that I have actually been to both that tram museum AND the Blue John mine and am from the nearest major city to them so it is playing to me.

        Think you need a healthy dose of familiarity for it- and I don’t see you as someone that would ever encounter a rambler.

      • Judge Droid says :

        No, I’d cross the street to avoid one.

      • Judge Droid says :

        I couldn’t think of anything more boring than a tram museum.

      • Jarv says :

        It is quite monumentally tedious. Even as 8 year olds, we hated it.

        I’m amazed that it exists.

      • Jarv says :

        Fucking Darbyshire is so boring. Not only is there the tram museum, but there’s also Chesterfield’s church (twisted spire), Chatsworth, Bakewell, Blue John caverns (and various other caverns), Hathersage and so forth.

        Christ. I’d murder people if that was my idea of a fun holiday.

  2. Judge Droid says :

    Pedantry aside, I agree with you on most of this. The jokes, performances etc were good. It’s just that the second half just fell flat, and I expected better. I needed more than what I got. In your rating universe, I would give it a meh.

  3. kloipy says :

    I still haven’t seen ‘Kill List’ I know I need to

    I thought this looked good as well, but while I could see something like this being a short film, I think the idea itself lends more space to grow to a full feature.

    The film that has one joke that would have worked SO much better as a short film is ‘Dale and Tucker Vs Evil’

    While I enjoyed D&T, once the joke is out (and it is spoiled in the trailer for the film) that is how the rest of the film is structured and if it weren’t for the characters of Dale and Tucker it wouldn’t work at all. But that is a movie that had a lot of promise but needed more in its story.

    Great review as well Jarv

  4. kloipy says :

    Another film I recently saw and enjoyed was ‘Citadel’. It is not without its problems (and some of them are glaringly bad) it still manages to be quite instense

  5. Xiphos0311 says :

    Jesus this sounds like 90 minutes of pure hell only saved by the fact that you are famliar with these places.

    • Jarv says :

      I don’t think I’ve done it justice.

      It’s having a dig at a certain type of British weirdo. It is funny in the first half- just not as good as I was hoping

      • Xiphos0311 says :

        Naw your review is fine, that came out harsher then I really meant.

        What I should’ve have said was that most countries produce insular films like this that rely on jokes or cultural references that outsiders don’t get. Droid an outsider living in England for eons, who’s be exposed to these sorts of things for years, didn’t particularly buy in. Yet you Jarv who grew up in the area immersed in the culture thought it was much better. Nothing wrong in that by the way.

      • Jarv says :

        See what you mean.

        Yeah, I definitely bought into it more than droid, and the missus, who has actually been to some of these villages (not the museums and shit, because I like her and that’s too boring for words) liked it.

  6. ThereWolf says :

    I do like getting out into the countryside (but not to murder anyone) – so I’ll have a look at this one at some point.

    Nothing like a tram museum to set the pulse racing…

    • Jarv says :

      Being in Manchester, you’re actually not too far from a lot of the places they go to. The Snake goes through Derbyshire, I think.

      Bet you’ve been to Chatsworth, say.

  7. Anonymous says :

    nice review jarv, because of it i have no interestin seeing this but you piqued my interest in his previous movies

    • Jarv says :

      I’m starting to think I gave this an overly negative review.

      It’s not bad.

      His earlier films are far more intense than this. This is relatively gentle, whereas Kill List is a massive punch to the bollocks.

      • Toadkillerdog says :

        that anonymous was me, your review is not negative, but it is more lukewarm with a touch of longing for what made his previous efforts so memorable to you

  8. Echo the Bunnyman says :

    I get what Jarv is saying, and Droid too. It’s a fine little movie, but it feels like it should have preceded Kill List not come after. In some ways similar to what it must have felt like when Spielberg followed up Jaws with 1941.

    Of course, his next looks like a trippy return to form.

    http://thefilmstage.com/trailer/first-trippy-trailer-for-ben-wheatleys-groundbreaking-a-field-in-england/:

    • kloipy says :

      that trailer looks awesome!

    • Judge Droid says :

      Will have to wait to watch the trailer, but this is quite interesting…

      We also threw out the word “groundbreaking” above and this film truly is, as UK distributors are, for the first time ever, not only releasing it in theaters on July 5th, but video on demand, Blu-ray and DVD, as well as premiering the entire thing television at Film4 on the very same day.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: