Sightseers (2012) British Black Comedy Caravan Style


I watched this film after reading a brilliant review by Natasha on Films and Things. I’d not heard of the film, but, as it was directed by Ben Wheatley (creator of the brilliant film Kill List and Down Terrace) and I am an unabashed fanboy of this brilliant new film director, I decided to give it a go.

The film starts with Chris (Steve Oram) taking his new girlfriend Tina (Alice Lowe) on an introductory trip to his world; the world of caravanning. Tina’s mother  (wonderfully played by Eileen Davies) doesn’t like Chris or trust him. It turns out that she is pretty much spot on with her character assessment of Chris.

Although he obviously adores Tina, he is, in fact, a serial killer and has been eliminating people who irritate him since his redundancy six months ago. Tina, doesn’t know this at first, but getting caught up in the action, becomes an over enthusiastic accomplice.

Director Ben Wheatley again shows the deft touch that is his trademark and he allowed the two main characters plenty of opportunity to free wheel their scenes. It works wonderfully. Oram, Lowe, and Wheatley get together to tell us that all the things we imagined about caravaners is true. In fact, it’s worse than we thought; these people aren’t just odd, they’re murderous.

Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, aka Tina and Chris.
Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, aka Tina and Chris.

The humour is of the blackest sort and quite droll in most places. Chris’s penchant for killing those that irritate the living hell out of him is very funny (and not a little bit scary, it must be said) and most of his victims are very deserving of their fate.

Sightseers began as a stage comedy “skit” thought up by the two (Oram and Lowe) after they discussed childhood experiences in the world of the caravan holiday makers. This skit was performed regularly and it led to the decision to attempt a screenplay. With everyone they approached declining to make the film as it was considered “too dark;” they eventually got Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, et al) to green light the project.

Ben Wheatley wisely allowed Steve and Alice to improvise a lot of their scenes as they were the authors of the material and due to repeated performances of the skit knew their characters inside and out. It makes the film something special to watch. You also come away from the film realising that it is possible to produce a work that, despite its shoestring budget, looks great.

After seeing the film, I realised two things; that I was an even bigger fan of Wheatley (if that’s possible) and I now adored Alice Lowe. While Oram was outstanding as the monumentally screwed up Chis, it was Lowe who impressed the hell out of me. This is her film really and the character of Tina, who is just as messed up mentally as Chris, but on a different level, was hysterically funny.

There is a scene early on in the film with a Jack Russell dog and a pair of oversized knitting needles that made me laugh so long and hard that I had to stop the film and rewind it. I’d missed a lot of action because of that one scene.

A definite 5 out of 5 stars for a British black comedy that will tickle your dark humour funny bone.

Blackly funny.

*Filmfans in America will now be able to enjoy this English gem as the film has a release date of 10 May 2013 in the US.*

Tina (Alice Lowe) and Banjo/Poppy.
Tina (Alice Lowe) and Banjo/Poppy.

The Woman (2011): Nell With a Twist


Lucky McKee directed and co-wrote (with author Jack Ketchum) The Woman; a film  that could be called Nell on acid. Although this is a sequel to the 2009 McKee film Offspring about a “tribe” of cannibals who roamed the north-east coast. The “woman” is the sole survivor of this tribe. But not having seen the film, I did not learn this from watching the feature. Wikipedia kindly supplied that information.

Like the 1994 film Nell, where a small town doctor (Liam Neeson) finds a “wild” hermit girl who has very limited social skills, The Woman features a male character who finds a “hermit-like” feral girl with very limited social skills. The main difference between the two films are that in Nell, Neeson’s character wants to help the girl.

The male in The Woman does not have help in mind when he captures the feral woman.

Vive le différence.

Of course the other connection between the two films is that the actor who plays Chris Cleek (Sean Bridgers) was also in Nell. Small world isn’t it? I’ve also got to say, it bothered the hell  out of me that Bridgers looked enough like Will Ferrell to be his twin brother.

The Woman opens with a wild and savage woman in the woods. She is feral and adept at hunting and fishing. She’s also Amazonian in stature and apparently quite strong. Chris Cleek goes out into the woods to hunt and stumbles across her.

He is obviously intrigued and makes plans to capture her. He succeeds in this and takes her captive. Unlike Nell, where the good doctor wants to study and help his “discovery,” Cleek wants to turn her into his and his son’s plaything. Something to torture and humiliate and abuse.

The Cleek family consists of Chris, wife Belle (Angela Bettis), daughters Peggy  (Lauren Ashley Carter) and Darlin’ (Shyla Molhusen) plus son Brian (Zach Rand). The family is all about what Chris wants. He is a class A pervert, control freak and hater of women. Son Brian, under his dad’s loving but controlling tutelage, is a chip off the old block.

While the woman is held captive in the old storm cellar, tensions rise as the whole family become involved with this wild creature and the school is getting concerned at the constant absence of Peggy from classes.

As the film moves disturbingly to it’s almost inevitable and anticipated finish, you will be hard pressed not to be disgusted at the way that head of the family Chris rules his family with an iron hand. The females of his family are terrified of him and not without cause.

While the woman he is holding captive in the cellar might be feral, he is a monster and son Brian a monster in-training.

Not the real monster in this story.
Not the real monster in this story.

When the film premiered in the US, there was some controversy about the subject matter and the way that women were treated and depicted in the film. I seem to remember charges of sensationalism being levied as well. But considering that director Lucky McKee was not above generating any kind of publicity for his film, I don’t know how much credence can be given to any of these charges.

As for myself, I couldn’t for the life of me decide whether the filmmakers were making an anti-feminist sort of statement or were awkwardly trying to make some sort of empowering statement for women!

The climax is shocking, but not surprising. It is bloody and savage and well worth the wait. But having said that, it is still confusing. It is a powerful film and a shocking and disturbing one.

I would give the film a 3.5 stars out of 5 only because it was very different. Not having seen the prequel of Offspring, I have no idea if continuity was good or bad. I only know that for the most part, I found the film very distasteful and kept watching to see if some sort of justice would be served.

A film that is definitely not for everyone. But if you can stand it, it is on Netflix at the moment.

Not nearly as violent or disturbing...
Not nearly as violent or disturbing…
%d bloggers like this: