This Schlocktober, Comics Bulletin will be exploring the world of horror cinema, featuring thirty one notable films released between Halloween 2012 and Halloween 2013. Next up is director Ben Wheatley‘s Sightseers.
After directing one of the best horror films of 2011, Kill List, and contributing a segment to The ABCs of Death (“U is for Unearthed”), Ben Wheatley shifted gears – sort of – and directed the black comedy Sightseers. The stars of the film, Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, wrote the script (with additional material added by Wheatley’s writing partner, Amy Jump) and spent seven years shopping it around (being repeatedly rejected for being “too dark”) before Edgar Wright and Studio Canal UK came to the rescue, hooking them up with Wheatley (Kill List had been released under Studio Canal UK’s previous incarnation, Optimum Releasing).
Oram plays Chris, an aspiring writer (and caravan fan), and Lowe plays Tina his new girlfriend. In a decision that Tina’s mother thinks is horrible, Chris and Tina, both of whom are ridiculously socially awkward, decide to take a road trip in order to get to know each other better. As far as comedy set-ups go, that’s a pretty solid one. Then you throw in a dash of flash-rage, impulse control, and a handful of murders and you’ve got one of the most entertaining murder comedies in ages.
The greatest strength of the film is the emotional honesty of these two characters. They’re both extremely damaged and demonstrate moments of vulnerability that are heartbreaking. But they both also can be selfish and casually cruel at the drop of a hat – particularly Chris as he’s the one with the most distinct emotional disconnect.
While Chris provides the dramatic thrust of the story, Tina is the emotional heart. She’s the one (of the pair) who is really taking a chance here and has the most to lose. We see her family life and relationship with her mother, but we don’t really see that with Chris. She also plays the conscience when the murders begin, even though she is quickly swept up in the passions evoked by killing those they decide deserve it.
In a way, Sightseers touches on some similar points that Bobcat Goldthwait did with God Bless America, only with more subtlety and with less attention to popular culture. Sightseers also takes us to a darker, more serious place for its finale that is ultimately more satisfying. But it’s not fair to compare these films beyond a basic “Rude People Need to Die” aesthetic. God Bless America was more interested in critiquing society, whereas Sightseers is more concerned with the emotional life of these characters.
I might even go so far as to say that this is the most honest exploration of damaged psyches in any of the films discussed so far in our 31 Days of Halloween spectacular. The humor isn’t as broad as other films, and the horror aspect isn’t as exaggerated, but Sightseers is one of the best horror comedies of this year, or any year, without question.
Paul Brian McCoy is the writer of Mondo Marvel and a regular contributor/editor for Comics Bulletin. His first novel, The Unraveling: Damaged Inc. Book One is available at Amazon US & UK, along with his collection of short stories, Coffee, Sex, & Creation (US & UK). He recently contributed the 1989 chapter to The American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1980s (US & UK) and has kicked off Comics Bulletin Books with Mondo Marvel Volumes One (US & UK) and Two (US & UK). Paul is unnaturally preoccupied with zombie films, Asian cult cinema, and sci-fi television. He can also be found babbling on Twitter at @PBMcCoy.