January 4, 2013

Caravan of love

Round these parts, Ben Wheatley’s comic-horror thriller Kill List has become a genuine word-of-mouth cult movie, carried from one viewer to another like a secret. (Can you handle the violence? Are you prepared for the narrative shocks?) Sightseers (2012), an awkward black comedy of the English outdoors – antecedents: Nuts in May, Withnail and I, Coogan and Brydon’s The Trip – starts in such humdrum domesticity than you know, based on Wheatley’s previous form, horrific or spectacular violence must follow. But the feel is different. Steve Oram and Alice Lowe developed their characters Chris and Tina in stand-up, with a TV series in mind, and the project came to Wheatley and his partner, co-writer Amy Jump, fairly complete. It’s a very English scene of small aspirations, class tension and quiet resentment, and the tone remains gentle rather than heading towards Kill List’s growing, even unbearable, dread. As their caravan winds through Derbyshire and Yorkshire, Chris and Tina encounter pompous travel writers, heritage wankers, would-be shamans, litterbugs and a hen party, as though Kill List’s famous guitar-in-restaurant scene could be copied and recopied. It’s absorbing, often funny, well-performed, and while its satirical ambitions – a killing set to Blake’s Jerusalem? – mostly go unfulfilled, it does get romantic awkwardness, feeling at times like a violent English version of Eagle vs Shark, which also means that, like Loren Horsley in Eagle, Tina emerges as the heart of it.