The British can make almost anything funny with their dry, cheeky sense of humor, including murder. Sounds messed up, right? You might be wondering, “How could murder ever be humorous?” Well, it can be hilarious, if it’s for all the wrong, outrageous reasons in Ben Wheatley’s dark road-comedy “Sightseers.”
All of the violence and chaos in the film seems logical and amusing, because you find out quickly, that the main characters each have a screw loose. First there’s Carol (Eileen Davis), an overbearing, melodramatic, mother who can’t stand the thought of her 34-year-old daughter Tina (Alice Lowe) leaving to go caravanning with her boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram). Carol constantly belittles Tina, blaming her for the death of her dog, but suspects that Chris is bad news, so she tries guilt trips and theatrics to keep Tina from going. The sheltered, naive Tina doesn’t care, since she wants to explore the world both literally and sexually. Going on holiday with Chris is her only chance, which is why she ignores her mother’s warnings.
Of course Chris seems like a total teddy bear at first, oozing politeness and charm with Carol and Tina. It’s the perfect amusing facade for him to disguise his nasty temper. Not long into their trip, Tina learns exactly just how far Chris is willing to go in order to punish those who disrespect him. His homicidal actions and Tina’s discovery of his true nature doesn’t generate the reaction you might expect though.
In fact the experience actually brings them closer, emboldening them to commit a series of brutal crimes. During their time together, Chris and Tina become a sort of British Bonnie and Clyde, embarking on a comical destructive spree that leaves several bodies along the way. Their brief happiness is challenged however, once they realize that they have completely different methods to their madness. Adding to the insanity, their lovers spats aren’t the typical run-of-the-mill fights, they include massive collateral damage.
The reasoning that both Chris and Tina use to engage in foul play is what makes “Sightseers” so funny. To them taking a life can be justified as retribution for a small act of disrespect or acceptable if they’re being spiteful. On screen however, the actual acts of murder are extremely horrifying and disgusting. Not only do you see too much of the graphic gore, but there are loud gut-wrenching sound effects like cracking and crunching, which ruin the satirical tone of the movie.
Also, as part of its comedic strategy, “Sightseers” juxtaposes violence with beautiful, picturesque shots of the countryside. There are gorgeous panoramic views and tranquil bits of nature that remind us just how corrupted this couple’s vacation has become. Although these pieces are meant to create an entertaining sharp contrast between the facets of the trip, they ultimately throw off the film’s rhythm, making it feel like a car constantly stopping and starting in traffic. Thus it fails to gain solid momentum with its jokes or its story.
Another huge annoyance is how fast Tina’s character turns into every negative female stereotype. Once she decides to be an accomplice, she transforms into a manipulative, overly emotional, irrational character who causes nothing but trouble. Her impulsive behavior is obnoxious and stupid because it helps put the authorities on their trail.
“Sightseers” is a fantastic concept for a dark comedy that would have been better served if it concentrated more on the silly motives for murder than showing you the graphic acts themselves. Additionally, with a more seamless approach to weaving in the nature shots and subtler writing for the female character it could have reached greater heights.
My Grade: B-...as in Better than Average, But Not By Much!
IFFBoston continues through Tuesday April 30, 2013. For more information, visit www.iffboston.org.