Director: Ben Wheatley
Normal people, about 99.9% of the world’s population, look at dark comedies like the malnourished probably look at breakfast cereals without even a thimbleful of milk in sight. With confusion yet contentment. At the core of Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers is two hearts beating as one. Chris (Steve Oram), an aspiring writer and Tina (Alice Lowe), a knitting aficionado. They are an adorable couple on a road trip. They love each other very much. So much that it hurts. It even murders people. Lots of people. Chris has had problems with stability for a long time. He just needs to deal with them in silence and with the solace that he finds only in his love for Tina. He was bullied as child, ridiculed as a teenager and stepped on while grappling with adulthood and facial hair. He loves Tina because she is damaged too. She is drunk on melancholia. She too distrusts people because she is wary that they may rip her wings off. She is fearful that she may never be able to fly with hummingbirds and learn the songs they seduce honeysuckles with.
Chris is very cautious about everything that exists outside the beautiful and fragile bubble he shares with Tina. He has severe anger issues. He has fists of rage and foul breath for anyone who dares to threaten the logistics or lucky charms of the road trip. His strength is uncontrollable because it stems from the love he nurtures for Tina. A place where pain, pleasure and passion hold hands and prance around. It works because Tina is sweet, beautiful and innocent. In one scene, she has an enchanting conversation with Chris about childhood memories. He asks her “so what were you like when you were a little kid?” and she replies “unhappy” before perking up and throwing the question back at him. There’s nothing fancy about it to the naked eye, but once rewound and replayed over and over again, it feels like an exhilarating ride. The scene’s emotional ambiance is beautiful in ways that makes our heads spin like those helicopters do when Vin Diesel realizes that he loves the smell of the residual powder that bazookas leave behind when fired.
Actors Steve Oram and Alice Lowe up the ante on the intensity of their performances once the bond between the couple starts thinning. Doubt and drama knock on the doors of perception. We feel brutalized by the change in the climate of their love. We aren’t troubled that they are at each other’s throats but because deep down we know that love just isn’t sustainable. As Tina starts questioning the sanctity of the bond and Chris transforms into the avenging angel of death and despair, we sympathize with them because we relate our personal relationships to theirs. For instance, if someone we know and care about acts selfishly with us, we feel like we have accidentally glanced at stretch marks near the butt-cracks of strangers. We just can’t look at them the same way ever again. We act like we have seen a side of them they should have fought like hell to hide from those who mattered to them. Even when we, in pursuit of karma and goodwill, put their motives behind us, we still can’t help but doubt every action of theirs thereon. We move on instead of mustering up the courage and conviction to confront them. If we really cared about them, we would ask them to pull up their undergarments or at least maintain well-hydrated skin in certain parts of their bodies. Not since Tarzan and Jane have a couple tried this hard to work things out. As people looking in from the outside, we clutch our pillows a little tighter during the climax portions, hoping that love conquers all.
Steve Oram and Alice Lowe shine like batty diamonds because they are wonderful actors and also, the co-writers of the film. Richard Lumsden and Richard Glover, who have cameos as people with missing and/or mutilated body parts, are addictive and hilarious in their attempts to get us, along with Chris, to knock their teeth down their throats. Eileen Davies, who plays Alice’s mother, is the uncrowned queen of quasi congenial remarks. The Amazonian warrior princess of awesome one-liners. The Joan of Arc in the dark about the sacred truths that kindness leads to. She has many memorable moments with Chris as she constantly berates him, scrutinizing his flaws with the sort of diligence that agoraphobics have for conspiracy theories. She also has the best line in the film when she reminds her daughter “You’re not my friend. You’re just a relative.”
The dialogues are wistfully written with fiery escalations and rock-solid humour. The music is absolutely delightful because Soft Cell’s version of Tainted Love is the greatest cover in the history of white people’s versions of black people’s popularized interpretations of songs originally written by other white people. The camerawork is a series of dream sequences of a man chewing sunflower stems, sitting under the shade of coarse woody branches of a dead tree. Cinematographer Laurie Rose does to the wide shots of the English country-side what Wong Kar Wai does to hotel rooms and train stations.
Ben Wheatley does to his characters what a ninja probably does with broken shuriken. Also, what filmmaker Cecilia Miniucch did to Expired, another brilliant film about two broken souls.