By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 15, 2013)
I think we can all agree that there is nothing inherently amusing about mass/serial/spree killers; especially in the midst of these troubled times when they have become a daily occurrence. Nonetheless, filmmakers have been playing the subject for laughs for many a moon, going at least as far back as Frank Capra’s 1944 film adaptation of Joseph Kesselring’s early 40’s Broadway hit, Arsenic and Old Lace, Charlie Chaplin’s 1947 black comedy Monsieur Verdoux or the 1949 Ealing Studios classic, Kind Hearts and Coronets. Of course, those films could almost be considered “kind and gentle” next to contemporary genre fare like Bob Goldthwait’s God Bless America or the insanely popular Showtime series Dexter.
Sightseers, a dark comedy from the UK directed by Ben Wheatley, falls somewhere in between. Sort of a cross between The Trip and Natural Born Killers, it’s the story of a slovenly gent named Chris (Steve Oram) who drops in on his agoraphobic girlfriend Tina (Alice Lowe, who co-wrote with Oram and Amy Jump) to spirit her away from her over-protective Mum for a road trip to the north of England. Chris is eager to open Tina’s eyes to wonders like the Ribblehead Viaduct and the Keswick Pencil Museum, camping out in their caravan along the way. Besides, this will give the fledgling couple a chance to get to know each other (as Chris assures the wary Tina.) The journey begins well enough, until Chris sees a man littering on a bus. Chris gets unusually bent out of shape when the man dismisses his admonishment with a one finger salute. Tina is concerned, but Chris’ anger passes. She’s relieved. That is, until Chris “accidentally” runs over the litterbug with the caravan when he happens to spot him later that day. Oh, dear! Just when you think you’re really getting to know somebody.
So do the laughs pile up in tandem with the escalating body count? I don’t know; maybe I’m already witnessing more than enough mayhem on the nightly news, but I couldn’t squeeze guffaws out of seeing someone run over by an RV, or having their skull pulverized into ground chuck by repeated blows with a blunt object. Call me madcap. Despite being infused with wry British wit and oddly endearing performances from Oram and Lowe, Wheatley’s film may have made me chuckle a bit, but it didn’t exactly slay me.