When it comes to the realm of “dark” comedies, there are really two different camps concerning the subject. There are “dark” comedies and then there are pitch-black, no-light-can-escape-cosmic-black-hole comedies. “Sightseers” definitely falls into the latter category. In fact, I have had more than one argument as to whether or not this film is even a comedy at all. All I can say is that I laughed, hard, more than once. For me, that is definitely saying something considering that I don’t even get that from the majority of what passes for full-blown comedies.
On the surface “Sightseers” appears to be a romantic comedy, or even a buddy picture. A late thirty-something couple, still in the honeymoon phase of their relationship, decides to take a road trip to see the British countryside. While on their journey the couple encounters a seemingly endless menagerie of increasingly annoying fellow travelers. All types of personalities are encountered from rich and arrogant elitists, to litterbugs and die hard eco-warriors. These fellow travelers are seemingly harmless, but there is only so much that our “protagonists” can take. Nothing is as sweet as they remember it, and all these personalities are ruining things for the “true” purists. As the trip progresses, the couple ends up solving their annoyances with murderous results. Think of it as your worst road-rage fantasy come to life.
Aside from the murderous chaos, there is a genuine sense of love and relationship angst that is somewhat charming, albeit nihilistic. This is not a feel-good movie or a date movie, but the on-screen ups and downs that the couple experiences will strike a chord with most viewers in regard to the “head over heels” nature of their romantic progression. Sure it’s extreme and far fetched, but familiar nonetheless. This is where the film proves most authentic, until the situation goes completely off the rails. I might hold off on “Sightseers” for Valentine’s Day, unless of course, your Valentine’s mind is as warped and deranged as mine is.
This is the third film from up and coming English director Ben Wheatley. He had a relatively big year in 2011 when his cult-horror hit “Kill List” opened to critical acclaim. Wheatley tends to stick to horror fare, but “Sightseers” is a slight departure from the genre. Although there are elements of “horror”, it is firmly a black comedy in my book. The film also boasts Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) as Executive Producer. Although “Sightseers” is decidedly darker than most of Wright’s work, the comedic tone and escalation in violence are in tune with what we have come to identify with Mr. Wright’s sensibilities.
Many people will have difficulty with this film. It is not for everyone, or fans of broad comedy in general. This is a very specific type of film, for a specific type of audience. I have talked to people who found it mean-spirited, disturbing, and not funny at all. Despite this warning, it has been hailed as a festival favorite playing both Cannes and Sundance Film Festivals. If you can look past the meanness there are some real moments of comedic gold…Rage-fueled, xenophobic, comedy gold!