Ben Wheatley is one of the Nerd’s favorite filmmakers working today and his Sightseers only further reinforces my already sturdy-as-all-hell convictions. With this, Kill List and Down Terrace, Wheatley has shown himself to be a director whose work is unlike anything else on the cinematic landscape today (Jesus, busting out the cliches for this one, I guess). With his mix of queasily realistic, shocking violence and sharply observed, character-driven comedy, Wheatley’s films are essentially just screaming directly into the Nerd’s face that I *have to* love them. Thus far I have fulfilled this request with the greatest of fucking gusto.
This time out he follows the awkward and dim Tina (Alice Lowe) as she leaves her caustic mother’s house to go on a caravan holiday with her new, mysterious boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram). The two are pleased as punch to see all the sights the countryside has to offer – from caverns and castles to old bridges and pencil factories – but things quickly take a turn when Chris backs over a rude litterbug with the camper, killing him. Tina and the police are able to write the incident off as a tragic mistake, but when another jerk they encounter ends up dead, Tina is suddenly not so certain of Chris’s innocence.
Though such a setup may imply that this is some sort of domestic thriller out of the late eighties/early nineties, let the Nerd assure you that Wheatley is far from interested in treading such well-worn territory. To discuss the plot particulars from this point on is to be a dick to the uninformed viewer and you know the Nerd likes to avoid being that guy as much as possible. That said, I will say that Sightseers only occasionally mines their situation of the type of suspense and thrills one would likely expect from such a story and instead is an uproarious and acutely observed comedy with a mean streak as wide as, well, a fucking caravan.
Much of what makes Wheatley such an exciting filmmaker for me is the massive tonal shifts his movies make, switching from authentic and human moments to scenes of immense depravity on a dime (hell, let’s even go ahead and call it a nickel). Some might find such moments wonky but his violence never feels out of place or cartoon-y within the naturalistic worlds he creates. In fact, the reason the violence works so well in his films is for how graphically realistic it is in its depiction, how well it fits into the rest of the film despite being so shocking and jarring.
While there was a gritty, on-the-fly look to his previous films, Sightseers (while often retaining much of said cinema verite-like grittiness) has flashes of Kubrickian-starkness in style that managed not to take me out of the film much at all. It will be interesting to see if Wheatley works more toward this flashier direction of visual storytelling the future but then again, even if his next one were a straight-up found-footage horror film you better believe the Nerd would be first in line.