Kieron Moore looks on in horror as a romantic caravanning holiday in the north of England descends into violent mayhem in Ben Wheatley’s idiosyncratic black comedy.
What would Terence Malick’s Badlands (1973) be like were it set around the tourist spots of Northern England? It’s an unusual pitch, but the answer is Sightseers (Ben Wheatley, 2011). A tale of two outsiders, Wheatley’s film follows Tina (Alice Lowe) as she escapes her overbearing mother to let new boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram) show her his world – a world of caravanning, heritage sites, and brutal murder, and a world that, as is director Wheatley’s forte, showcases a dark blend of graphic violence and warped humour.
The first stop on their tour is the Crich Tramway Village, and it doesn’t take long for the nastier side of Chris’ life to be revealed. As the couple takes a trip on a vintage tram, a man sat in front of them discards his Cornetto wrapper. While the ice cream brand may be a nod to Edgar Wright’s involvement in the film, to Chris this is nothing short of a disgrace, and the man’s rudeness when asked to pick it up puts him into a grump. The day goes further downhill when Tina receives a call from her mother, feigning illness, so decides to give up on the holiday entirely and asks Chris to take her home.
But when pulling out in his caravan, Chris, a former victim of bullying with a need to feel respected, sees the man again, framed like a target in his wing mirror. This is his opportunity – to enforce his rules and to induct Tina into the darker side of his world. Moments later, the man is squashed under the caravan wheel, blood spouting from his neck. Tina’s in shock, but there’s a sly smile on Chris’ face.
Having passed the killing off as an accident, the couple walk off, together again. As Chris feigns his own shock (“He’s ruined the tram museum for me now”), Tina reconsiders her return home. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s been initiated into a world she’ll become absorbed in…