In the time it takes to batter a man to death with a hammer, writer/director Ben Wheatley has put forward a hell of a case for being labelled the saviour of British cinema. While Down Terrace gave him the tag of ‘One To Watch’, Kill List promoted him to the upper echelons of English Directors Premier League. Now with his most accessible film to date, Sightseers, garnering rave reviews – see the poster quotes below if you want to know if it’s “FUNNY” – Wheatley looks set to become the cineaste name his talent richly deserves.
New couple Chris and Tina set out on a caravan holiday of epic proportions, with plans to take in everything the North of England has to offer; namely a tram museum and a pencil museum. Leaving behind a smothering mother, Tina lets down her hair for the first time, blissfully happy at the freedom the road has to offer. But while things start out well for the twosome, a litter lout, a Daily Mail reading rambler and an unfortunate dog quickly bring out the worst in Chris. Sadly for Chris, and anyone near the A65, Tina’s worst just might be a little worse than his.
Sightseers, a tale of a love, violence and ridiculously oversized pencils, is a delirious joy with blacker than coal humour and two genuinely well crafted leads. As the “man with a ginger face” and “angry woman” writers and stars, Steve Oram and Alice Lowe (you may recognise her from Garth Merenghi’s Dark Place), deserve equal applause for bringing to life the most memorable couple in years. Think Mickey and Mallory Knox in Wellington boots.
A character piece first, because the two holidaymakers are so precariously balanced between loveable and lunatic the time we spend on vacation in their company is a treat. Behind the safety of the silver screen of course. Without giving away any more than the above trailer does, the deaths/murders tread that ultra-thin line between horrifyingly shocking and cheerfully (in movie land at least) justifiable.
By embracing rather than complaining about the restrictions of what this little island has to offer in terms of budget and location everything looks and sounds a bit Ken Loach and Shane Meadows. One of Wheatley’s strengths, however, is he has enough world cinema knowledge to steal from the best, and enough cinema talent to make sure things feel bravely original, coupling British peculiarities of caravans and hiking holidays with enough blood to make Peckinpah blush.
With any luck Sightseers, like Kill List before it, will inspire young UK film fans up and down the country to pick up a camera and shoot, safe in the knowledge that you don’t need cockney gangsters and period dress to make a British movie that can play to a global audience.
The best British film of the year is also the best horror film of the year, and yes if you’re that way inclined the best romance movie of the year too. While we won’t start the campaign to get him to direct Star Wars: Episode VII any time soon, let’s hope Wheatley gets to fly the British flag in every corner of the world.
Pick up this week’s mag for NME’s official top films of 2012.