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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

Sightseers (review)

 Sightseers green light Alice Lowe

I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): didn’t love the director’s previous film

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

To say that I am not the biggest fan of director Ben Wheatley’s last film, Kill List, is a little bit of an understatement. Didn’t hate it, but its grimness is exceeded only by its humorlessness, which mightn’t be an issue if the film didn’t end up going where it goes. So perhaps something like Sightseers might have been the last thing I’d have expected as a followup, for while it is as relentlessly vicious as Kill List, it goes so insanely in the other direction when it comes to comedy — and when it comes to a self-awareness of the dark humor often inherent in tales of brutal bloody murder — that the fact that it comes from Wheatley just about doubles the delightful surprise of its wicked, outrageous hilarity. There is something uniquely, even achingly English in how Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram), dysfunctional people in a dysfunctional relationship, accidentally end up expressing their simmering resentments at the shitty (yet totally banal and ordinary) hand life has dealt them by lashing out — murderously — at those who fail to toe the same line they have all their lives. Well, okay, perhaps it’s not in actual fact an accident that the first murder victim who just so happens to cross their path during a caravan holiday to Britain’s highlights — the pencil museum! the historic tram village! — is a jerk who litters on public transport. Perhaps Chris has been waiting all his life for just such an opportunity, to take out an antisocial asshole who flouts the rules that decent people live by. Perhaps Tina is merely acting out on the passive-aggression her mother inspires in her, as in how, for instance, Mom makes her feel naughty and dirty for going on a vacation with her boyfriend. (Chris calls their caravan trip “an erotic odyssey,” but that’s just one more slip of evidence for the pathetic and yet poignant smallness of their dreams and ambitions. More evidence: Tina’s knitted lingerie. Oh, dear…) It’s funny that a nebbish like Chris can say, “I just want to be feared and respected. That’s not too much to ask from life, is it?” But it’s also indicative of the feeling of powerlessness that crushes so many people, of the weight of obligations that we all carry around, sometimes for people and traditions who do not deserve it. Character-comedians Lowe and Oram crafted the script, but it’s hugely improvised, and gives voice to deep-seated fantasies that grip even the best of us: We’re good people, so we don’t indulge in vicious murder, not even of those who richly deserve it… but we sure do like to daydream about it. And of course any time you can get a little dog involved in the action, that’s just pure comedic gold.

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Sightseers (2012)
US/Can release: May 10 2013
UK/Ire release: Nov 30 2012

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated NV (contains nerd violence)
MPAA: not rated
BBFC: rated 15 (contains strong language, bloody violence, sex and sex references)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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