Tina and her mother Carol are at loggerheads over Tina’s new boyfriend Chris. Tina has agreed to go on a caravanning holiday with Chris, which Carol disapproves of. It’s a typical mother–daughter argument that any teenager might encounter with one slight difference: Tina is 34. Trapped in a controlling relationship with her mother and already in her bad books after the accidental murder of their puppy, Tina sees Chris as her personal saviour. Despite Carol’s increasingly spiteful attempts to scupper the endeavour, Chris and Tina finally head out into the big wide world, well North England to be precise, as Chris promises to show Tina “his world”. Chris’s world starts off harmlessly enough with a trip to the Crich Tramway museum. How very romantic! Things are going swimmingly until Chris observes a litter bug dropping his ice-cream wrapper. This triggers a rage inside Chris which overshadows the rest of the museum visit as his anger bubbles away under the surface. When they are just about to the leave the museum, Chris spots the litter bug again, this time in the car park. Whilst backing out his caravan, Chis manages to run straight over him; severing an artery in his neck and killing him. Chris initially shows remorse, but soon convinces himself and Tina that it was all a horrible accident. However, this quickly proves to be the first of many killings that Chris perpetrates during the holiday. Chris has finally found an outlet for his stifled “artistic creativity” and in Tina, he believes he has found his muse.
So, in summary we have a sort of Natural Born Killers by way of Open All Hours. Chris and Tina travel around the caravan parks of Northern England visiting a number of “attractions” whilst Chris wilfully murders anyone who annoys him in the slightest. Initially shocked, Tina internalises and rationalises the actions and it isn’t long before she’s getting her hands dirty as well. All this could easily have been turned into one of the most unpleasant and nasty horror movies ever made. But the film works by finding the comedy in every situation. Chris’s dark outlook on life and Tina’s sheltered upbringing are all played for laughs; even Tina’s damaged relationship with her mother is presented in a comedic way, whilst the gore on screen is pushed to absurd, laughable levels. Just as importantly, the humdrum and the quaint get just as much screen time and laughs as the ghastly and disturbed. The film presents a sweetly accurate portrayal of the average caravanning holiday in the North of England (apart from the mass murder, of course). Presenting the stunning countryside of Northern England in its true glory, faults and all; you can practically feel the cold and damp from the safety of the cinema. Every scene seems to involve buckets of rain, high winds or both. Anyone who’s been dragged round an exhibition such as the Keswick Pencil Museum to avoid another torrential downpour might actually start to understand what madness Chris and Tina are going through.
Steve Oram has a difficult task balancing Chris’s outbursts with his otherwise ponderous nature and does an excellent job throughout. Fascinated by the seemingly mundane, he conveys both the harmless charm of a perfectly normal holidaymaker and the dark homicidal streak that bubbles just under the surface. But the true star of the film is Alice Lowe. Somehow she manages to convince us that Tina would not only stay with this madman, but grow to love him or at least tell herself enough times that she might believe it. A performance like this is always on a knife edge and can so easily go wrong, but Lowe hits every note perfectly. Her interactions with her Mother (play by Eileen Davies) are also spot on – veering from laugh out loud funny to soulful or painful in a heartbeat but always with a clear feeling of truth to them. A few other semi-familiar faces from British TV appear in the support cast but this is really a two person show and both leads nail it. Knowing their characters inside out, it came as little surprise to discover that both are credited as writers of the film.
Director Ben Wheatley, responsible for the baffling and ultimately disappointing Kill List keeps everything ticking along at a fair pace here and shows a real skill for balancing the different aspects of the film. Somewhat surprisingly (after what happened in Kill List) he also nails a potentially very difficult ending – because after all Chris and Tina go through, what possibly could happen to them that would satisfy audiences? The final scenes are perfect; both heartbreaking and beautifully directed, even if the musical choice is a little on the nose. Coming in at a lean 88 minutes; SightSeers is dark but hilarious. It won’t be for everyone but it’s easily one of the funniest films I’ve seen all year.
Others might suggest that things would have got much worse if the pair had continued on into Scotland, but I couldn’t disagree more. Lovely country, full of lovely people.