Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” is fittingly utilized at the start of Sightseers. At this point, Ben Wheatley has strategically positioned his characters and set-up the journey for them and the audience to embark upon. Tina (Alice Lowe) lives with her overbearing and controlling mother. As a means of escaping her mother’s guilt trips, Tina decides to go on holiday with Chris (Steve Oram). Virtually everything leading up to the song’s usage has a bland resonance that provides its fair share of chuckles. But the tone shifts dramatically once the music is cued: “Sometimes I feel I got to/Run away, I’ve got to/Get away”.
The wayward travelers hit up the numerous tourist traps of Northern England, from a pencil museum to a site featuring a collection of trams. But the blandness here is juxtaposed by Chris’ violent transgressions – he ends up murdering a rogue litterer and follows that up by offing a portentous writer. From here Wheatley surveys the toxicity of his characters as Tina not only finds herself accepting Chris’ behavior, but actively taking part in her own set of murders. The humor that Wheatley derives from these excursions is simple: his characters are so warped in their sensibilities that they believably justify their murders. The most striking and humorous justification occurs when Tina notes how murder reduces emissions and therefore is a greener option. Yet with violence playing a critical part in Tina and Chris’ relationship, cracks appear when Chris finds Tina’s murders to be too random and ill-conceived. This quibble between the appropriate techniques to murder ramps the already ridiculous premise of Sightseers, but unfortunately doesn’t do much for the film’s comedic intent.
Sightseers simply registers as too frivolous and seems content in its modest analysis of bland homicidal tendencies. Perhaps a testament to Wheatley’s design, the film never actually escapes this blandness and is stunted when it strives for an uptick on its emotional plain. The whole picture is an exercise in modesty of the hyper violent, but the tonal blend just never pulled me in. Still, Sightseers does possess a measure of formal sophistication that validates the acclaim that Wheatley has received upon the film’s release. And the principle characters provide the material with the necessary sense of awkward grisliness. But from the onset, the uneasiness that Wheatley aims for just becomes stifling Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” becomes something of a mantra when experiencing Sightseers: “Sometimes I feel I got to/Run away, I’ve got to/Get away”.