Killer comedy is perfectly pitched

Nerdy campers Chris and Tina slaughter anyone who crosses them in Sightseers, a surprise hit at Cannes Film Festival, says Don O’Mahony

SIGHTSEERS almost didn’t get made. But the film, by Ben Wheatley — director of last year’s acclaimed British occult thriller, Kill List — was one of the hits of the Cannes Film Festival this year.

Sightseers was conceived as a television show by its lead actors and writers, Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, but its story of a killing spree undertaken by campers Chris and Tina was rejected for being “too dark.” When director Edgar Wright saw the potential in the project, he passed it on to Shaun of The Dead producer, Nira Park, who optioned it. That rejection by television was the best thing for Oram and Lowe.

“It’s not something we regret now, obviously,” says Lowe. “At the time, we were livid, were we? No; we’re just used to it.”

Squeezed together in a corner of a lounge, with Wheatley next to them, Oram and Lowe could pass as their screen alter egos, in a quietly conspiratorial huddle, seething with resentment at some perceived slight or other.

“Yeah, I think it would have been quite interesting, but people never let you kill loads of people on telly, do they? British telly, anyway,” says Oram.

“Lots of people die in Eastenders, though,” says Wheatley. “That’s like a death square, that. If you move there, you’re screwed, aren’t you?”

“But they always get their punishment, don’t they, anyone who kills in Eastenders?” says Lowe, “and I think they were just worried that we would look like we were having too much fun.”

Chris and Tina don’t set out to engage in a homicidal spree, but that’s what happens, and there’s little else they can do.

Confronted by iniquities along their journey — litterbugs, supercilious campers, self-righteous ramblers, an annoying hen party — murder seems a justifiable course of action.

Clearly, class plays a role, also.

“There’s two things going on,” says Wheatley. “One is the Chris character is contradictory and his revenge isn’t particularly well thought out. You know, he kills a guy for dropping litter and then he kills another guy for complaining when his dog has a shit, so, really, he’s not thought this through. But, at the same time, it’s a general frustration with people and that’s a class thing as much as anything else.

“But this character is not standing for it, even though he’s not a proper class warrior. He’s got no dogma to back him up.”

“He’s a warrior for a very pathetic group of people, in a way,” says Lowe.

Wheatley came on board as director when Nira Park passed him the script. He had previously worked with Oram and Lowe on another TV pilot.

At the time, Wheatley was still working on Kill List and the producers waited to see how it was received before giving the go-ahead to Sightseers. Indeed, Kill List includes a moment in which both worlds collide: the scene in the hotel where a group of happy-clappy Christians annoy the two hit men.

Wheatley says: “I think that’s funny, that scene, because it joins the two movies. It’s that thing of being trapped in a space with people actually having a good time, and that’s irritating you.”

“It’s two worlds colliding, isn’t it?” says Lowe. “Which is exactly what happens when you go on holiday: you meet people that have a different set of values to you.”

“It’s really annoying, isn’t it?” Oram says, darkly, “It’s really annoying.”

Lowe: “And it’s a clash. There’s not enough boundaries between you when you go on holidays.”

The peculiarities of Sightseers’ very British sense of humour, and the fun it pokes at real-life locations, such as Crich tramway museum, the Ribblehead viaduct and the Keswick pencil museum, have definitely travelled well.

But Wheatley worried that a foreign audience wouldn’t get it.

“It was really nerve-wracking, the whole Cannes thing, because, obviously, it’s a subtitled comedy, which is a bitch, basically,” Wheatley says.

“But when we saw it at Cannes, people laughed all the way through. That was the moment I felt relieved and I knew it would work for any audience after that.

“I’ve been in loads of screenings and people are still laughing, which is a f**king relief. Thank God.”

* Sightseers is on general release this week.


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