★ / ★★★★
Tina (Alice Lowe) and her boyfriend, Chris (Steve Oram), are on their way out for a one-week road trip across England, but Carol (Eileen Davies), Tina’s mother, is not very happy about it. Carol worries her daughter does not know Chris well enough for them to spend time alone for such an extended period of time. Plus, Carol is convinced Chris is a murderer—even though he insists a prior incident was all a terrible accident.
“Sightseers,” directed by Ben Wheatley, has got the case of trying too hard to be a dark comedy. It possesses neither the edge nor the danger to pass as one. Halfway through, I found myself feeling bored and frustrated that it fails to move beyond a series of sketches where the set-up involves the couple crossing paths with strangers and the payoff is that bad things begin to happen. Though the sub-genre is unexplored for the most part, the film does not seem to have any sort of inspiration to make the experience of watching it enjoyable.
Lowe and Oram’s talents fit a more comedic niche. They pull off a few one-liners because they are not afraid to contort their faces to the point of silliness or not move them to make an impression that their characters are not the sharpest tools in the shed. I liked them as performers but the screenplay—written by them with additional material from Amy Jump—is not pointed enough as a satire of toxic relationships. The punchline is always someone getting hurt physically and it gets dull fast.
Tina and Chris are boring apart. Perhaps that is the point—some people, unfortunately, are convinced that they are not bright enough to captivate another person, let alone an entire room, or that they do not have anything special to offer. But it is no excuse for the characters to be boring together. Their sex life is supposed to be wonderful but we do not feel it. They are supposed to have a lot of things in common but we do not see them. Neither of them seem to have interior lives. So, aside from their sudden shifts in behavior, what makes them interesting?
The funny thing about dark comedies is that the filmmakers must understand how human psychology works. When they do not, it shows—and it is insulting. The film then becomes an exercise of hassling us for laughs instead of really earning them. In a way, the best dark comedies are also educational in that they give us insight into what may not necessarily be obvious to the viewer.
I tried not to reveal the so-called twist even though I am convinced it is not all that surprising. “Sightseers” is a toothless black comedy that consists of violent trivialities. Even the bloody affairs are executed with flatness and lifelessness.