A killer in a cagoule? That is the unlikely but alluring prospect held out by Sightseers, a comedy of manners in which murder arrives out of the great blue yonder, usually in the vicinity of a caravan park. Director Ben Wheatley has in a very short time established himself as an auteur of the domestic macabre, somewhere between Joe Orton and The Wicker Man. This latest isn't as funny as his brilliant debut Down Terrace or as disturbing as his occult thriller, Kill List, but it features many of his signature touches and sets him apart as a film-maker of exceptional talent and daring.
Involved in the writing of the earlier films, Wheatley here directs from an original script by Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, with additional material by his partner Amy Jump. Lowe and Oram also take the lead roles of Tina and Chris, two thirtyish introverts who have just got together. Tina lives with her needy and spiteful mother (Eileen Davies) who's still mourning, loudly, the death of her pet dog a year ago. And she's appalled at the idea of her daughter going off with Chris for a minibreak: "You don't even know him," she says - with good reason, as it turns out. Chris, genial and ginger, has mapped out their trip from Redditch to the north, and what's more, he has a Volvo with a caravan to transport them.
These early scenes, with their stop-start uncertainty, are possibly the best of the whole film, reminiscent of the glum, bickering couple in Mike Leigh's Nuts in May. Chris has promised Tina "an erotic odyssey", and you can tell just from her packing that she hasn't really a clue what "erotic" might constitute: it certainly isn't her matching knitted bra and pants. Later, in a restaurant, she whispers to Chris that she isn't wearing any knickers, an effect rather spoilt by the revelation that she is wearing tights. The first sign that Chris might not be the mild- mannered rambler he seems comes when a litter lout deliberately crosses him. He's furious about it, and takes his revenge by "accidentally" reversing his caravan over the offender. As they depart Chris fumes, "He's bloody ruined Crich Tramway Museum for me".
That humdrum reference is a characteristic note in Wheatley. Stopping at a campsite where some hippie types are sacrificing chickens on a hill, Chris is informed that they're "shamans - from Portsmouth, you know". Such exotica intrigues and baffles the couple. When they meet a middle-class camper named Ian who's writing a book about ley lines, Chris conceives an idea that he will write a book on that theme, too, whether from sudden inspiration or envy isn't clear. He may not have the talent, but he does end up …