Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers

Chris is the Charles Kuralt from Hell.  He is determined to show his new girlfriend the British roadside attractions he adores, like the Keswick Pencil Museum—and woe unto those who despoil their tourist experience.  They will pay dearly in Ben Wheatley’s macabre comedy Sightseers (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

The British call redheads like Chris “gingers.”  Think of him as a Ginger Baker, except slightly more stable.  This road trip together will be an important step for Tina’s efforts to break away from her mother’s domination.  She is also mourning her recently deceased little yappy dog.  Chris wants everything to be just right for her, so the loutish behavior of a fellow tram museum visitor brings out the worst of him.

Chris plays off his first murder as an innocent accident.  However, Tina soon becomes an active accomplice in his killing spree.  Before long, things are completely out of hand.  It all adds quite the new wrinkle to their relationship.

Sightseers could safely be described as a dark comedy.  If you are totally fine with the desensitizing violence of Nicolás López’s Aftershock, but would prefer a more cartoonish presentation, this film is in your power zone.  Based on the comedy act developed by co-writer-co-leads Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, Sightseers is not shy about mining laughs from grisly terrain. In fact, the tone is much lighter than Wheatley previous film, Kill List, despite the superior body count.  Nonetheless, the murderous everyday banality of Chris and Tina is in keeping with the themes and vibe of his prior work.

As Chris and Tina, Oram and Lowe offer an object lesson in comedy as psychological therapy.  Oram deftly plays off serial killer archetypes while also showing a facility for physical comedy.  Yet, it is Lowe who really taps into deep, disturbing places.  They are funny, but you have to wonder about their childhoods.

Essentially, Sightseers is Two for the Road remade with Misery’s Annie Wilkes and a far less dapper Hannibal Lector.  To their credit, Oram and Lowe keep one-upping the madness, so it never feels like the same gruesome joke repeats over and over again.  Gleefully misanthropic, Sightseers definitely delivers the cult movie goods.  Recommended accordingly, it opens this Friday (5/10) in New York at the Landmark Sunshine.