(Dir: Ben Wheatley, 2012)
If you consider the most inexplicably overrated films of 2011, Ben Wheatley's Kill List sits atop that list alongside Attack the Block. Kill List is a curious one. It was mostly critically lauded, yet from speaking to people who've seen it it appears to be divisive, with some absolutely loving it and others not sure what the fuss was about. I sit on the far side of that latter view, emerging from the cinema thinking it one of the worst films I'd seen all year, completely baffled by the five star reviews. Essentially I thought it three badly sketched stories forced together without reason or coherence in a sub-sub-Lynchian manner. And the praise lavished on Wheatley for this... I'm at a loss...
And so here we go again. Sightseers is Wheatley's follow up to Kill List and is receiving a frankly baffling number of rave reviews. The story is simply about a couple who've been dating for a few months, Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe), who go on a caravanning holiday around northern Britain. Except Chris turns out to be something of a murderous sociopath.
So for starters the film is not exactly original. It's pretty much the archetypal, psychotic lovers on the run leaving a wake of destruction in their path, type of film. Think Badlands, Natural Born Killers, et al; except it's with a British twist and a certain mundanity. It's not explicitly about the murder; that happens in short graphically violent bursts, albeit slightly more toned down than in Kill List. These are two mundane people and Sightseers is more about their boring relationship and how they discover more about each other or even liberate themselves.
Mundane is one thing, but both characters are completely unsympathetic and unlikeable. Chris seems to have something of a moral code about who/why he is killing people, which seems interesting at first, but this turns out to be bullshit as he wilfully contradicts it. Then we learn that perhaps the point of the whole thing is more of a societal commentary about the working and upper classes, but it completely misses the mark and just feels awkwardly shoehorned in. Tina's character on the other hand starts off the wrong side of kooky and annoying, only getting worse as the film progresses and she wants to impress Chris. There are absolutely no reasons for us to care about her and they both come across like wronged petulant children that you wish would just disappear. As unlikeable as Tina is though, I thought Lowe's acting was pretty decent.
The film is billed as a comedy, which is something that's drastically needed to help save the audience from being suffocated in this quagmire of blandness. But it's not even remotely funny. It raised a light chuckle in me two or three times, which does not a comedy make. Honestly, the writing's not very good. I came away with only two positives about Sightseers - Wheatley knows how to use a camera to frame some nice looking shots. Most of the time the film does look good and visually he makes the most of the British countryside and scenery. It's also a well scored film utilising a good selection of songs. I liked these two aspect of it, but they're not enough to actually make the film any good.
Sightseers suffers from a completely mundane and clichéd story, an almost complete lack of humour and having characters you don't give a damn about and frankly would rather not be watching. It really isn't a good film, but it's not quite as bad as Kill List, pretty much due to the presence of a cohesive story. Admittedly I didn't expect much from Sightseers but as ever I went in with an open mind. However I'm more perplexed as to why certain parts of the media have latched onto Wheatley as a poster boy for everything that's presently great about the British film industry, elevating his films to the status of "brilliant" or "excellent" when they're at the opposite end of these descriptors. Is it because he's not conforming to the recent British filmic stereotype of costume drama / rom-com / East-end gangster film? But why celebrate someone who dares to do something different but doesn't do it well? Is that what we've come to accept from our art? I won't deny that he's got a good visual eye, but if he's as good as these people seem to think he is then hopefully he can figure out how to tell a decent story by his next film. Likewise, the media need to regain a grip on reality. Sightseers will, without question, make it onto my list of the most over-rated films of 2012.