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‘Sightseers’ movie review: Romantic road trip turns murderous in twisted comedy

Sightseers

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Ah, the road trip. It’s been fodder for countless movie comedies, but the new British import Sightseers, opening in Atlanta May 31, ups the ante by working murder and mayhem into the mix.

Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram) in Ben Wheatley’s SIGHTSEERS
Ben Wheatley

Alice Lowe is Tina, a meek young 30-something who lives at home with her overbearing mom (a scene-stealing Eileen Davies). When her boyfriend Chris (Steve Oram) invites her on a holiday to visit some fun sites in the British countryside, Tina happily agrees, much to the consternation of her mom. Chris tries to win over the cranky matriarch with some pleasant small talk, but mum offers a curt response: “I don’t like you.”

True, Tina and Chris have only been dating three months, but what could possibly go wrong when visiting such innocuous destinations as the Crick Tramway Museum and the Keswick Pencil Museum? As it turns out, plenty. A run-in with a litterbug gets Chris’ dander up, and before long he turns the trash-tossing gent into road kill.

Was it cold-blooded murder or just an accident? Regardless, the act awakens a killer instinct in Chris, and Tina finds herself alternately indifferent to, aroused and inspired by his actions. As the vacation continues, Chris and Tina leave a trail of corpses in their wake. But with authorities starting to get wise to their increasingly brazen acts of violence, where will it end?

Sightseers’ setup could easily make for a drama or thriller, but director Ben Wheatley and co-writers Oram and Lowe choose to serve up the story as comedy of the blackest variety. The result is wildly uneven, with some scenes landing with a thud as resounding as one of Chris’ axe blows to the head. Other setups are pretty damn funny – even if you’re kicking yourself for laughing at the carnage on display.

Many comedies skimp on production aspects, but Wheatley and his team show an impressive attention to detail on par with the best, even if the overall film falls far short of greatness. Working with cinematographer Laurie Rose, Wheatley composes shots that alternate between picturesque and grotesque, mirroring the film’s tone nicely. In other spots, brazen editing and visual flourishes vaguely suggest Natural Born Killers. And an inspired soundtrack provides additional smiles.

Unfortunately, Wheatley, Oram and Lowe never quite find the right balance between making the film’s characters relatable and reprehensible, making much of Sightseers a tough slog. Still, the film ekes out just enough laughs to make this twisted tour through tourist land worth a look.

Grade: B-

“Sightseers" opens in Atlanta on May 31 at the Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.

Follow me at @ATLFilmExaminer.

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