Saturday, March 9, 2013


SIGHTSEERS             B+  
Great Britain  (89 mi)  2012  ‘Scope  d:  Ben Wheatley              Official site

Perhaps taking a cue from memorably camp material like The Honeymoon Killers (1969), Wheatley turns the conventional travelogue vacation movie on its ear, though its perhaps undone by the sheer unlikeability of the main couple.  Sad sack Tina (Alice Lowe) lives with her manipulative and overcontrolling mother, Carol (Eileen Davies), a somewhat mean and grotesque figure still grieving over the loss of their pet dog Poppy who died a year ago.  Tina is a licensed but pathetically inept dog psychologist who seems to instead sympathize with her mother’s grief.  Given the opportunity to temporarily escape her sheltered environment with Mum, she jumps at the chance to go on a road adventure with her new boyfriend, aspiring writer Chris (Steve Oram), driving a live-in caravan behind them on a meticulously planned trip through Northern England’s Yorkshire territory.  Somehow the ultra-hilarious Steve Coogan and Rob Bryden’s impressionist extravaganza The Trip (2010) comes to mind, but this film builds its cleverness on the sheer conventionality of the two characters that haven’t a notable distinguishing characteristic between them.  Happy to be on their way, to the sound of Soft Cell :Tainted Love Music Video - YouTube  (2:39), though assaulted by a series of miserablist phone calls from Mum who feigns dire emergencies like Bud Cort feigned suicides in HAROLD AND MAUDE (1971), Tina has to spread her wings and let go, finally free of the mad clutches of her mother.  All seems to be going well until Chris becomes overwrought at the callous actions of an unconcerned litterbug at a world heritage site, going on an extended rage until he accidentally runs over the poor guy with his caravan, where blood spurts out from his neck like a cheap B-movie special effect, accentuating the ridiculousness of the act, but also the worthlessness of the litterbug’s life.        

Not to be deterred, the couple won’t allow a regrettable man’s death to ruin their vacation, developing a common mindset where they can do whatever they please, like this brief clip where they pass a larger caravan, getting downright giddy over the idea, Sightseers "Dingly Dell" Clip - YouTube (1:11).  As they get deeper into the countryside where the undulating hills dominate the landscape, they park their caravan in close proximity to another couple who have an identical dog as Poppy, where the guy is something of a smug writer, bragging about having written three books, while the girl refuses to allow her dog to be fed junk food.  Chris immediately hones in on their detestable nature, arising at the crack of dawn for his neighbor’s scheduled walkabout, following them into an excluded area before bashing him over the head with a rock, then pulling his pants down to make it look like a sex crime to throw off the authorities.  Grabbing the dog as their own, Tina is overjoyed at the sight, instantly calling Banjo by his rightful name (in her eyes), Poppy.  Taking great pleasure at watching the TV news reports of the crime, Chris is thrilled when it’s reported that the police are on the lookout for a perverted sex criminal.  Tina has an inkling of what Chris has done and develops a theory, by eradicating detestable individuals from the earth’s population, you are in fact elevating the potential gene pool, an idea that suggests selective murder is a Green activity, perhaps enhanced by the trippy version of Season of the witch - Vanilla Fudge - YouTube (8:47), suggesting something mind-altering is in the midst.  So rather than be repulsed by the hideousness of the act, Tina finds herself sexually aroused like never before, where one might even say these are the happiest days of her life.  Off they go on their cross-country journey, where Tina discovers if she doesn’t really like someone, for whatever reason, she has a partner willing to do something about it, willing to go all the way to set things straight, which gives her a feeling of invincibility, like this clip where she grows delirious with her newly discovered power, literally toying with the idea of what her boyfriend will do, Sightseers - "National Trust" Clip YouTube (1:53)

The director’s third feature, this is the first he did not write himself, relying instead upon the two lead actors, a TV writing and acting team, along with longtime collaborator Amy Jump.  The film doesn’t seem to suffer from this lack of input, and while it’s basically a series of funny sight and sound gags, there’s not much else, lacking the depth and insight to be much more, yet it’s hands down one of the funniest films of the year.  The film takes a single idea and runs with it, where the musical selections throughout are outstanding, including the exquisite JULIE DRISCOLL ft BRIAN AUGER - season of the witch ... - YouTube  (7:57), offering a twist midway through, as Tina grows so newly empowered that she starts knocking people off with relish, everytime she gets irritated, something that draws the ire of Chris, who believes there’s a selective art to killing, especially murdering Green, so they can’t just pick off random anybodies.  If they’re going to commit themselves to killing thoroughly detestable people, then they must elevate their standards to only the truly despicable.  Other dark serial killer movies go to great lengths to establish character, like Tuesday Weld in Pretty Poison (1968), where her surprising amoral zealousness steals the picture, where even Bobcat Goldthwait’s disturbingly bizarre satire God Bless America (2011) uses a similar premise of blowing away only the most irritating people on the planet.  In comparison, this is more understated, with few cinematic tricks up its sleeve, but one with a unique premise that continually pays off.  While the two leads are forgettable, the kind of people you’d walk right by on the street without a second thought, we learn little about them except they’re tired of living under the thumb of rude, overbearing authority figures, where they fantasize about taking matters into their own hands.  Tina grows out of control, where female empowerment never looked so good, as Chris can’t hide the bodies fast enough, where he’s constantly chiding her lack of ethics when it comes to serial killing.  Something of an English holiday from Hell, visiting tourist sites few would ever think to actually visit, like the Crich Tramway Village, the Blue John Cavern, the Keswick Pencil Museum, or the picturesque Ribblehead Viaduct, before finally reaching a mountainous destination by the end, where there always seems to be a steep ledge making it ever so convenient to push an unsuspecting body into the waiting darkness.  Entertaining, to say the least, and darkly sarcastic, where Chris justifies one of his killings with “He's not a person, he's a Daily Mail reader,” finally drowned out by the sounds of GLORIA JONES- "TAINTED LOVE" (1964) - YouTube (2:14). 

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