The brutally dark British comedy “Sightseers” can be stunning to look at, with eye-catching panoramas of lush landscapes. It’s also lovely to listen to, piping in a spot-on soundtrack of evocative tunes.
If only the script were less problematic.
The plot follows the recently coupled Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) as they embark on a road trip around the British countryside. This looks like a stodgy, mildly boring couple, but only until it becomes clear that Chris conceals a homicidal rage that can be sparked by something as minor as littering. Though less bloodthirsty, Tina has a few screws loose, too, so it doesn’t take much for her to embrace this new, violent lifestyle. In fact, battery becomes something of an aphrodisiac for the pair as they meander along various highways with a blood-spattered RV hitched to their bumper.
Despite the one clear plot thread, the film feels like a dumping ground for quirky episodes that seem funny on paper. A woman writing an emotional letter using a three-foot-tall novelty pencil has potential, as does the idea of a frumpy 30-something knitting herself kinky lingerie. But bludgeoning a man to death because he’s a snob? That depends on your tastes. And even fans of dark comedy might not feel compelled to join in the laughter.
It’s difficult to put a finger on how or why a death might be humorous instead of tragic. The ingredients for a successful wickedly black comedy remain elusive. Absurdity helps, and “Sightseers” has that. But the film lacks a couple of important items: likable characters and worthy victims. Chris spends most of his time brooding, and the ever-chattering Tina has a voice that could make a squawking gull wince in pain. Watching criminal protagonists should prove both exhilarating and conflicting; we want them to get away, even if we know what they’re doing is wrong. Audiences might not encounter that ambivalence about Chris and Tina.
One positive byproduct of law-breaking main characters is our ability to live vicariously through them. But killing people because they’re inconsiderate, because they went to private school or, simply, because they’re in the way of the car doesn’t feel all that rewarding. Between the mostly innocent victims and the plodding pace, a depressing tone settles over the movie.
Questionable plot points aside, the film is beautifully directed. Even some of the grotesque murder scenes — intercut with other images — are imaginatively rendered. Director Ben Wheatley has been garnering buzz with such films as “Kill List” and “Down Terrace,” which he both wrote and directed, and it’s easy to see why.
Wheatley is too talented to be directing this script. His artistry only serves to highlight the lackluster writing.
Unrated. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema.
Contains blood, bludgeoning, language and sex scenes. 88 minutes.