Ben Wheatley’s follow-up to ‘Kill List’ was always going to be tough. That film melded Mike Leigh’s approach to naturalistic acting with Hammer supernatural shenanigans to great effect, and it’s much better on a second viewing. This time he seems to have taken on another ghastly/funny Mike Leigh play, ‘Nuts In May’, and combined it with ‘Natural Born Killers’.
Tina has a virtually comotose mother who hates the idea of being abandoned in favour of new boyfriend Chris, an unprepossessing ginger-bearded loner who you think will probably make a fairly decent husband. Tina and her new beau take a vacation around some incredibly unprepossessing spots in the middle of England, including the Pencil Museum, some bits of Redditch, small caves and a restored tram ‘experience’.
Its in the latter that Chris argues with a lumpen prole who chucks an ice cream wrapper on the floor and gives him the finger. But after accidentally backing over him in the car park, Chris and Tina find their true vocation; offing all those whose behaviour disappoints them. However, unlike the more satirical ‘God Bless America’, the couple’s blackly comic odyssey isn’t staged to score points about the state of the nation. Rather, it becomes an odd character study as the pair chuck annoying hikers off cliffs and find that the excitement beefs up their sex life.
It starts to go wrong when Chris bonds with an incredibly dull cyclist who has invented his own cara-pod for sleeping in. The two men revel in the mechanics of bicycle design to the exclusion of Tina, so she takes matters into her own hands…
But it’s not quite as clear-cut as you think. Why are there strange photos on Chris’s phone? And, as in ‘Kill List’, what are we to make of the final frame? What Wheatley has done, it seems, is reverse the killers-on-the-run road trip genre into something small and rather moving. Tina and Chris don’t think big – Tina’s efforts at dirty talk are merely off-putting, and the couple’s idea of romance is to try salsa classes. England looks damp, grey, small and very, very boring, filled with crummy day-out sights that only men in anoraks would want to see. Which makes it so much easier to understand that these two can become remorseless murderers.
If you’re in the right frame of mind all this becomes very funny, from the sight of Tina attempting to explain her feelings on paper with a four-foot pencil, to a sexual bout that leaves Tina with her face buried in a potpourri bowl. But it’s also ineffably sad, the idea that we can brighten our lives with a damp traipse around a bit of English Heritage. Tina always looks as if she is an inch from bursting into tears – and despair would indeed be the only other response to ‘Sightseers’ apart from graveyard laughter.