Moviedrome Redux: ‘Sightseers’ (2012)

Nuts In May meets Natural Born Killers in this jet-black road trip.

Sightseers is most likely my favorite film from Ben Wheatley so far, and that says a lot, as I’ve enjoyed all of his work. In a short period of time, he’s unleashed Down Terrace, Kill List, Sightseers, A Field In England and High-Rise, all movies that I feel are terrific pieces of cinema, and have totally confirmed him as one of the foremost filmmakers of his generation. I’ve now come to expect something special from Wheatley with each new film, and I eagerly anticipate Free Fire.

“Wheatley is such a playful sadist and has such a great sense of visual space that he allows the film to open innocuously, only to then pepper the proceedings with one transgressive moment after the next.”

For some reason, I just can’t stop revisiting Sightseers; there’s something uniquely deranged about it that speaks to me and my love for satirical black comedy. However, you should only watch this film if you like your comedy JET BLACK. Dark comedies rarely get darker or meaner than this misanthropic road-trip satire, which sort of feels like the British version of Bobcat Goldthwait’s hysterical and underrated gem God Bless America mixed with shades of Falling Down and Happiness. It’s a film that revels in its diseased nastiness, and one that has a distinct (if caustic) point of view concerning society and its various dysfunctions.

Lead actors and co-screenwriters Alice Lowe and Steve Oram are both terrifically vile and frequently hilarious, going totally for broke with their insane conceit, never looking back once, and matched every step of the way by a director who was totally in sync with their poisonous yet smart worldview. The film pivots on the ultimate holiday from hell, as two lunatics cut a swathe through the British countryside, disposing of people that they find out of step with their dangerous ideas and views of normalcy. Wheatley is such a playful sadist and has such a great sense of visual space that he allows the film to open innocuously, only to then pepper the proceedings with one transgressive moment after the next.

The unassuming yet stylish cinematography from Laurie Rose also plays with expectations, favoring day light for all of the big, nasty moments of violence, and placing an emphasis on camera placement and off the cuff shot selections. The toxically hilarious and ironic final moments are absolutely unforgettable. Wheatley’s wife, Amy Jump, was an additional contributor to the script, while Edgar Wright served as one of the producers. Sightseers screened at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival as part of the Director’s Fortnight section, and is really a movie only for those who enjoy the bitter and unrelentingly sour taste of cruel.

Wheatley’s next film, the fucked up, totally tripped-out piece of cinematic psychedelia A Field in England (2013) pushed the limits of personal, expressionistic storytelling to new, unhinged heights. A Field in England is pure madness, a descent into a strange and sometimes terrifying world of alternating perspectives, nightmarish dream-logic, and hallucinatory imagery that feels even more aggressively stylish because of the shimmery black and white cinematography. It’s one of those films that begs for constant revisits, as no individual viewing will likely be the same as the next. There’s too much to explore, both thematically and aesthetically, for this to be a one-off experience. If you can take it. For every person who loves this film, there will be 10 who hate it, or just can’t get into the groove that Wheatley hits in this perverse, sometimes upsetting, and always ferocious tale of men driven to the brink of insanity.

Coming on the heels of the hallucinatory A Field in England, 2016’s High-Rise seemed like a logical next step,and I loved every, single depraved, erotic, disgusting moment of it, and the entire movie has been crafted with a sophisticated visual style that blends ingenious sound work with feverish cinematography by Laurie Rose. High-Rise is an intense film, in every sense of the phrase, forcing the viewer into a constant stream of excess, never relenting for a moment.

After premiering at Cannes, Sightseers went on to receive several accolades, Empire’s Best British Film, as well as acting and screenplay awards for Alice Lowe. Lowe’s writing and directing debut feature Prevenge (2017) had it’s world premiere opening Critic’s Week at the Venice Film Festival, playing at a number of key festivals around the world and was released by Kaleidoscope Entertainment on February 10th 2017.

Ben Wheatley’s latest film, Free Fire, opened on 31 March 2017.

❉ Nick Clement’s latest venture, Podcasting Them Softly, is a weekly podcast discussing a film of the week, new and notable Blu-ray releases, new films in theatres, top five performances and collectibles. 

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