Director Oliver Stone went through a phase where a handful of films he shepherded really indicted the media for creating many of contemporary society’s natural born killers. I always thought that was more than a bit ironic – using a big budget motion picture to indict, well, big budget motion pictures, as well as TV and newspapers that seem to revel in glorifying violence. Despite all of his directorial pomp and circumstance, I thought what his perspective really missed is a clearer definition of where these people came from – what circumstances (besides the pursuit of celebrity fame) brought them to do what they did; what did their day-to-day existence (when they weren’t being hounded by the media) legitimately look like. A cinematic portrait of that might be a bit less interesting, but it also might go a long way toward stripping the veneer off a diabolical lifestyle that appears so inviting and envious to those outside of it.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Hoping to get temporarily beyond the oppressive psychological weight of her seemingly bedridden mother, Tina (played to mousey perfection by Alice Lowe) agrees to go on a road trip with her latest boyfriend Chris (a deceptively but delightfully thuggish Steve Oram). They rent a caravan (RV) and skip town, hoping to see what’s waiting for them out there in the wide, wide world beyond. However, the truism “no matter where you go, there you are” has never been more apt as the two slowly realize they can’t outrun who and what they are, namely two broken souls seeking redemption by inflicting as much pain and suffering upon unsuspecting others as often as they can … even when it turns to murder.
SIGHTSEERS – which incidentally was scripted by Ms. Lowe with some additional material being provided by Amy Jump – is about as blistering indictment of off-the-wall characters as you’re likely to see in film any time soon. It’s obtuse without being short-sighted, crafting a world wherein halfwits Tina and Chris fail to see anything wrong with them while constantly finding fault in the people, places, and events that surround them. And it’s deftly written – at one point early on, the perception is given that perhaps it’s only Chris whose personal worldview is more than a bit demented – but, if you’re watching closely, you can see the writing on the wall regarding Tina and even her desperately manipulative mother.
Tonally, the film is crisp yet dark – there are moments of painful laughter backed up against ones equally as uncomfortable. It’s all constructed in such an expert way by director Ben Wheatley such that you’re always guessing what’s coming next, if not anticipating some finally manic outburst wherein either of Tina or Chris’s lunacy would become visible to the world at large. But that’s what’s enticing about studying madness or psychosis: you never know who, what, when, or where one’s going to crack, nor what devastation lies ahead, because true diagnosis often eludes paid professionals as well as it does those who suffer in silence.
If there’s any lesson to be learned here, perhaps it’s as simple as “don’t jump.” (I suspect that’ll make more sense once you’ve seen the film.) Or, at the very least, “if you’re going to jump, then make sure you don’t do it alone.” Otherwise, SIGHTSEERS remains an interesting psychological road trip for those of us observing it from afar – the exact kind we hope to never suffer up close and personal!
SIGHTSEERS (2012) is produced by StudioCanal, Film4, BFI, Big Talk Productions, and Rook Films. DVD distribution is being handled through MPI Media Group. As for the technical specifications, the film is gloriously captured in high quality sight and sound with some cinematography that’s at times as interesting or as bleak as are its central characters. As for the special features, meh. I’m increasingly disappointed that these releases bearing the IFC imprint get released in the marketplace with bare bones – this one has some brief interviews and only the theatrical trailer; what happened to celebrating these smaller pictures, IFC? Can we not offer them anything competitive to the blockbuster releases? Seriously, I expect better.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. I certainly wouldn’t try to delude any of my reading audience into believing that SIGHTSEERS is bound to win an Academy Award any time soon. Though arguably captured stylistically not all that unlike any of the better films of those media darlings the Coen Brothers (who haven’t had a truly great film in quite some time), what director Ben Wheatley and executive producer Edgar Wright along with their exceptional cast have done is produce a sly, darkly comic exploration of two of the most offbeat homicidally-inclined malcontents the silver screen has seen in quite some time. This one is definitely worth your time.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MPI Media Group and IFC Films provided me with a DVD copy of SIGHTSEERS by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.