Directed by Ben Wheatley
Sightseers is a wonderful but bleak dark comedy. It’s edgy but not just for the sake of being edgy. Even if I don’t yet understand what exactly the darkness of Tina and Chris (Alice Lowe, Steve Oram) represents, it’s ingrained in their characters and the story as a whole. It’s not something borrowed but rather something that infects every moment of the film and their ultimate conclusion.
Over the course of the film Tina and Chris will come to speak their own disturbed language, though only later do we realize the seeds have been planted long before, when Chris comes to pick up Tina for a modest, kind of melancholic road trip (with stops at trolly and pencil museums), and immediately her aging mother expresses her disgust for Chris, calling him a murderer and plainly saying, “I don’t like you.”
This seems like the type of moment there to make us empathize with the (until that point) pointedly bland young man, already showing the signs of wear and tear from life and his inability to navigate it. When he rather quickly runs over a man with his car, the tone instantly changes.
What is ruled an accident by the police is just the first in a series of murders the two of them commit, all for different supposed reasons. One is a man whose literary success specifically points out Chris’ own shortcomings, so he kills him out of pride. While the first victim angered Chris for littering, a later victim will demand that they pick up after their dog. Tina, taking pleasure in the ease with which she can unleash Chris’ fury, tells him that this man touched her inappropriately. Chris then bludgeons him to death.
Another victim, the last, will be someone to whom Chris has become close. He is a friend who, even if not a romantic threat to Tina, sins simply by taking Chris’ attention away from her. She will calmly push him (and his tiny home) over a cliff. Chris reacts with dismay like you might if someone spilled a drink on your favorite shirt.
Through this all Tina and Chris experience the familiar ups and downs of a relationship, just with the collateral damage of all this literal carnage. They reflect how an unhealthy relationship might look to the people on the outside, the ones who can see so clearly what’s going wrong while unable to reach with any meaningful contact to the two people stuck inside.
Their relationship is probably the most unhealthy, disturbed one I’ve seen in a movie in a long time. On one hand yes, this is broadly heightened, but there is enough emotional depth here to make the horror truly register. Enough time is given upfront to ask us to empathize with the characters, at least for a moment, and there is something both charming and recognizable in their early courtship. They are dorky, a bit stunted, and their romance has the feeling of the innocence of childhood.
But things then move so quickly and escalate to such damning levels that all that empathy vanishes. They become monsters who are no less attracted to each other. Whenever one does something that would seem to alienate the other, it instead brings them closer.
So at the start this feels like two people trying hard to attract the other, behaving as if their is a certain fragility to their relationship. Then we see just how hard it is for them to get rid of the other, like each is a cancer to the other, a plague they must endure. Because of the mutual depths to which they sink, it seems like they both most certainly deserve each other.
And so there is something so unexpectedly conventional to all this in spite of the ostensible horror of what they do. They end up together, much as movie couples seem like they must, but here it is a curse. To find this level of connection can either be the best thing to ever happen or the worst.
Up Next: You Were Never Really Here (2017), First Blood (1982), It Chapter Two (2019)