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1. Sentimental, adj. Of or prompted by feelings of tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia.
“It’s now or never,” says Chris (Steve Oram) in Sightseers as he puts the car into reverse and runs over a litterbug tourist in the parking lot of the Tram Museum in Crich. He’s actually referring to the expiry of a 2-for-1 deal at the Pencil Museum – the next stop on the itinerary he’s worked out for girlfriend Tina (Alice Lowe), whose dominant mother is threatening to pull the plug on their romantic getaway. But it’s clear soon enough that there’s more than meets the eye to accidental death as Tina warms to the less attractive sides of Chris’ personality and follows this first fatality with an invitation to some enthusiastic sex.
As they head north towards Scotland, Chris and Tina’s ‘erotic odyssey’ gradually goes Greek tragedy, leaving behind a trail of gratuitous havoc directed against Daily Mail readers and any others perceived as a temporary nuisance.
In terms of sentimental journeys, Ben Wheatley’s third film is destined for cult status for featuring a different type of serial killer to those in his earlier, award-winning Down Terrace (as well as Kill List). Chris and Tina are not professionals, so killing is not a self-serving end but a catalyst for the discovery and fulfillment of some very basic instincts. This is a sentimental process. It’s just that the sentiments involved happen to be roused by experiences normally beyond the pale of civilised behaviour. Set against an increasingly wild (and unchecked) landscape, written and acted by Alice Lowe and Steve Oram with a humour that’s likely to redefine black, Sightseers justifies a reappraisal, possibly even an entirely new definition, of concepts such as tenderness, sadness and nostalgia.
Sightseers | Directed by Ben Wheatley (UK 2012) with Alice Lowe and Steve Oram. Starts February 28
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A humdrum road trip in the English countryside turns into a killing spree in Ben Wheatley’s neo-noir comedy Sightseers, written by and co-starring Alice Lowe and Steve Oram.
The British actors, comedians and writers (photo) made a name for themselves independently at the Edinburgh Fringe before working together on London sketch show Ealing Live!. Both have had work screened at Cannes. Sightseers, co-written by Amy Jump and helmed by cult director Ben Wheatley, is their first feature film cooperation.
What’s funny about killing people?
ALICE LOWE: Nothing, it’s horribly serious.
STEVE ORAM: There is nothing funny about killing people really.
AL: But hopefully the characters are funny. They do something that is very wrong and immoral. That’s a kind of fantasy. If we didn’t have morals and we just acted on our impulses, we would commit acts of violence towards people that we didn’t like. These characters fulfil these fantasies.
How important is their back story?
AL: We did a lot of research on serial killer psychology. We knew that the characters had to have a sort of logic.
The film could almost work without the murders
SO: If we treated it lightly and flippantly, then it wouldn’t be funny. The idea is that Chris is a loner who’s probably killed a couple of people in the past and got away with it, and now he’s at a stage where he wants to move the game onwards. He hooks up with his new girlfriend…
AL: …thinks he’s found a sort of nice malleable woman who he can train up to be his assistant, but unfortunately...
SO: ...plans go awry! She constantly goes off-schedule.
Ben Wheatley’s first two films are about professional killers. Why go with amateurs?
SO: I love Tarantino, but I think we wanted to do the sort of British take on that. Our serial killers aren’t cool at all. They’re nervous and you’re not expecting them to go where they go. That’s the satisfaction. We wanted to make them the least glamorous killers you could imagine. They’re from the Midlands, really plain-looking, they have a caravan, they have boring hobbies like knitting. It was a way of capturing what makes us laugh about being English as well.
AL: It’s really hard to escape those influences you’ve grown up with. We’re both from the Midlands. When you’re from somewhere regional you take on a specific sense of humour: a way of thinking about life. It’s that self-deprecating thing. We wanted the characters to be a bit like that ‘cos you don’t see it much.
Was the film fully scripted?
AL: We had a very solid script but we use improvisation to write. Some scenes, especially some of the more expositional ones, are word for word. Some scenes are completely improvised. That’s the way Ben likes to work. I think if you’re making comedy and you’re not using improvisation – I don’t know why you wouldn’t. It’s the way to get those golden moments. If it fails, it doesn’t matter. It’s just a tiny bit of wasted film and these days that’s cheap.
Did you ever feel the script wasn’t working and decide to change something?
There is nothing funny about killing people really.
AL: There were actually more killings in the original script. The film is really the journey of their relationship; the murders are just a reflection of what’s happening between them. The film could almost work without the murders. It’s just their hobby. If they were llama breeders or something, they’d actually be quite successful.
It’s about the act of murder, rather than reflecting on murder?
SO: Yeah. It’s about a feeling, and it’s a secret thing that they do together: it’s very strongly linked to sex.
It’s not just comedy, or social satire. Towards the end, there’s a tipping point where it turns tragic.
AL: We definitely wanted to do that. There was that tipping point, when we were writing. We thought: do we want this to be just a comedy and play it for laughs? Or do we want people to maybe go away thinking? That’s the difference between tragedy and comedy: how many people are left alive on the stage. And we said, let’s do the more difficult thing, in a way.
Sightseers opens February 28.