Film Review: Sightseers – Trailer Trash Smash Bash

The recent hacking to death of an off-duty English soldier by Islamist zealots in broad daylight in London chips away at that British reserve and the thin veneer of the Brits’ renowned stiff upper lip.  Now comes the U.K. indie Sightseers, which is a sort of demented On the Road meets Thelma and Louise meets Bonnie and Clyde, with a dash of Manson tribe sprinkled on top for good measure.

Alice Lowe (who has appeared in TV series such as Little Britain and in features including Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump’s Kill List) and Steve Oram (HBO’s Life’s Too Short and Kill List) co-star as the thirty-something losers from Losersville Tina and Chris in this road trip-cum-black comedy gone horribly wrong, which the actors also co-wrote with Amy Jump.  In England’s Midlands Tina lives at home with her ailing, overbearing, over possessive mother and has earned degrees in canine psychology that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.  (Aidst the gallows humor dogs play a fairly important role.)  Tina embarks on an ill-advised week-long jaunt through the Midlands with Chris — whom Tina seems to barely know — in his “caravan” (that’s trailer, to we Yanks).  We find out along the way that the bearded Chris, who has a bald spot, has been “made redundant” (that’s laid off from his job, to we Yanks).

At first they are hot to trot for one another as the couple drives about the Midlands, which includes some spectacularly dramatic scenery that mirrors the mood of this movie and its gloomy characters who are a sort of Heathcliff and Cathy gone off the rails.  A series of seemingly trivial incidents set Chris, and then Tina off, as they embark on an odyssey that becomes a killing spree in this Ben Wheatley-directed movie.  The authorities (who, as usual, are clueless — no Sherlocks they) can’t make heads or tails out of the unfolding mayhem, which may be because it seems to have no rhyme or reason.  As their crimes escalate the couple’s sexual ardor for one another inversely perversely cools — very Freudian (Sigmund ended up in England, by the way).

A rather fetching Alice Lowe (who comes across far better than her murderous onscreen alter ego does) made personal appearances at the Arena Cinema, that new haven for independent films in Hollywood next door to the Egyptian movie palace, where Sightseers has an exclusive run through May 30.  In discussing Sightseers, which alternates between the bone chilling and the hilarious, Lowe cast some light on the filmmakers’ intent.  Class envy is one of the elements that fuels the rampage of the couple, neither of whom have a full-time job in Tory Prime Minister David Cameron’s austerity-wracked not-so-Great Britain.  In lieu of the fulfillment that worthwhile work and a full family and social life could provide them, running amok gives Tina and Chris kicks and thrills.  They can’t get no satisfaction, so they turn to senseless crime.

Holding a meat-cleaver dripping with blood, one of the extremist fanatics who sliced and diced that British soldier was ready for his close-up.  He melodramatically declared right into a camera lens: "We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone."  (Bin Laden also said similar things like “if you leave us alone we’ll leave you alone.”)  One wonders if the Western imperial powers, which are endlessly sticking their noses where they don’t belong into other people’s business, are listening?  Probably not, so the tit-for-tat goes on in a vicious cycle of ceaseless violence.

Tina and Christian are not fundamentalists but, similarly, are the West’s powers-that-be listening to the restiveness of their own rootless generation spawned by austerity?  From the indignados of Spain to the Greek rioters to the 2011 English looters to America’s occupiers and so on, to quote Arthur Miller’s plaintive plea regarding in Death of a Salesman “attention must be paid.”    

Like the fading Willy Loman attention must be paid to the Lowe woman and Oram man in Sightseers.  This low budge indie that cost about one million pounds was actually released in the U.K. last November.  In a sense, it is a motion picture prophecy of the brutal, senseless street carving of that British drummer, as it taps into the zeitgeist of a troubled nation roiling beneath the surface, as cutbacks, unemployment and more wreaks havoc.   

According to press notes, Sightseers has won the London Critics Circle Film Award, British Independent Film Award, Empire Award UK, Evening Standard British Film Award, Mar del Plata Film Festival Award, and Sitges-Catalonian International Film Festival Award.  To be sure, Sightseers is frequently funny as well as shocking — but many of those laughs just might stick in your throat.  Not-so-jolly-ho, and all that rot.  Eh wot?

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