Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers fell between two very interesting pieces in the rest of his filmography. Kill List combined gritty British realism with terrifying retro horror whilst A Field in England echoed back to the folk horror genre and reminded me of Witchfinder General. Wheatley’s work is astutely British and combines dark comedy with the weird and surreal. Sightseers sits between each film both chronologically and stylistically. New lovers Chris and Tina venture out on their first romantic trip. With Chris’ caravan in tow the two head off to Yorkshire, visiting pencil museums and other pathetic hot spots along the way. All seems well until murder and death come crashing into their story, distorting their reality and changing the people we assume they are. The horror of the film lies in the blatant bodily harm and gore that the couple witness and indulge in. The script is witty and blunt which counteracts the subtle underlying references to cult and witchcraft. I went into Sightseers expecting it to be more of a comedy than anything else. It is certainly funny but it is equally haunting and dramatic. Sightseers is well acted, written and directed and remains the most charming British horror-comedy of recent years. This film thrives on the distasteful and the inappropriate whilst being enjoyably sly and smug.
The characters are completely, and purposefully, unlike-able. I found myself becoming more aggravated by their personalities as the film progressed which made the ending wickedly delightful. Wheatley unsettles his audience by providing little to no security in these characters. If the film was any longer it would undoubtedly grow tiresome but luckily it comes to a slick and brutal end in a similar way to Kill List. Wheatley is developing a unique signature which makes him one of the most distinct and exciting British directors currently working. He’s the new Ken Loach; you know, if Ken Loach was a little more bitter and twisted. What comes through in the likes of Sightseers is his love for horror and a personal affection for his craft. Sightseers is the most light-hearted of his films and one that seems to be more about entertainment than the others with the everyday man representing the threat and social impoliteness acting as the nail in most victims’ coffins. The humour is dry and outrageous and relies on the audience’s enjoyment in laughing at something they really shouldn’t be. Wheatley is a craftsman who knows how to direct his viewers as much as his actors.
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