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With Ben Wheatley—one of the most electric and prolific new filmmakers working—and stars/writers Alice Lowe and Steve Oram crafting a
chronicle of new lovers on holiday, the last thing to expect is anything
resembling a traditional relationship drama. And that’s the last thing you get.
But within Chris and Tina’s mad love, their pencil museum visits, their vicious
murders and hysteric jaunt through the countryside is real poignancy about the
peaks and valleys of intimate connection and letting go of long-held restraint.
Tina’s repressed. She lives at home with severe guilt over
the accidental death of her beloved dog, Poppy and with a cruel mother who
perpetuates said guilt. Now, she’s finally met someone who likes her for who
she is. That’s Chris. A “ginger-faced man,” as described by onlookers, Chris is
unassuming and friendly and a lover of the Crich Tramway Village, the Cumberland
Pencil Museum, the Ribblehead Viaduct and other odes to the Dark Satanic Mills
of the beautiful English landscape. He’s also mean-spirited and short in his
temper, justifying murder of the likes of litterers and other hostiles
that threaten the comfort and good nature of his and Tina’s trip.
It’s slow going for Tina—just leaving her mother behind
feels like a huge step—but as Chris’ world reveals itself, her propriety and
meekness and boundaries crumble. Her first bold choice: Tina resists every
impulse to return home to her mother, deciding to see where this new love and
road takes her. It’s a decision many make much earlier in life. SIGHTSEERS
never makes clear whether Tina is finding something again, or if this is her
real deal first love, but all that comes with a partner experiencing things
anew next to someone well-worn is on display. Their interactions alternate
between fiery and freezing, and once Tina gets the bug, begin to delve into
gender politics and double standards via homicide. Tina kills on impulse. Her
violence is largely reactionary, and unexpectedly tests Chris’ boundaries, as
he claims he has a code or system. Their argument that follows sounds oddly
similar to the empty reasoning of why men can do things women cannot.
Tina’s second bold choice is stealing a dog. The lost dog of
one of Chris’ victims, Banjo looks identical to Tina’s poor Poppy. She changes
the pet’s name and as her walls fall, so does her balance, with the dog’s ever-shifting identity and close connection to such baggage a catalyst for extreme
As the film and their relationship develop, Wheatley imbues
a sense of history and country throughout. The stunning, brooding landscapes (Laurie
Rose’s photography is stellar) feel intensely connected to the characters, as
do their immediate company. Chris and Tina camp near a group of shaman, whose
practices grow increasingly pagan and hallucinatory. Chris strikes up a friendship
with a cyclist whose invention of a single-man camper seems to mirror the
ginger killer’s solitary desires as he grows frustrated with Tina.
Midst one fantastic sequence, Wheatley overlays classic
English poet William Blake’s “And Did Those Feet in Ancient Time.” The piece,
fairly eerie, contemplates the possibility of Christ’s landing in England during
his lost years. It lays out the contrast of the divine traveling through a
place so seemingly and naturally steeped in a dark mysticism; its “clouded
hills” and aforementioned “Dark Satanic Mills” also referring to the more
maligned byproduct of Industrial Revolution (artifacts of which Chris is enthusiastically
visiting and including in his essential tour of the countryside). Are the likes
of Chris and Tina, in tune to a violent, free spirited heritage keeping their
fellow travelers from a sort of vacation New Jerusalem? Or is this in everyone’s
All this would make SIGHTSEERS sound heavy, but the film is
evilly, evilly funny, very much thanks to its stars and writers, but also its
director who even found kernels of gallows humor in his harsh, towering KILL
LIST. Lowe and Oram live Tina and Chris, and while some may disengage as their
antics escalate, they’re undeniably worthy of applause. Lowe, in particular.
While physically, SIGHTSEERS is a journey of two, by the film’s final moments,
you’ll see just how far Tina has come.
SIGHTSEERS is currently playing the Sundance Film Festival. It is, as yet, undated by IFC.
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