Friday, December 28, 2012


Tina lives with a mother who keeps her subdued with guilt. "You're not a friend," she says to Tina, "you're a relative." Tina at thirty-five is bound to this (made extra guilty by facilitating the accidental death of their terrier, Poppy) and her life looks as numbingly drab as a British kitchen sink  film. Into this stagnation rides Chris, not a knight in shining armour but a ginger with interests in pencils and trams. He is about to whisk Tina away on the holiday of a lifetime.

This goes well until they accidentally kill a fatheaded arrogant fellow tourist with their caravan. It's manslaughter not murder but it sends them into a sexual frenzy, incidentally enjoyed by the gang of roadworkers they've parked beside. One by one as opportunities emerge from England's green and pleasant mire the pair learn love and the art of spontaneous murder.

The central pair are played by Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, UK tv comedy veterans who also co-wrote the screenplay. The director's chair was filled by Ben Wheatley whose arresting genre-jumping Kill List has to be seen twice to get right.

This is film has been marketed, however subhorizontally, as Mike Leigh doing Natural Born Killers. That's not a bad start but something happens in this piece that Mike Leigh would never do in the face of temptation and Oliver Stone would never even think of: the couple's violence is driven entirely by the fury of their punishing inferiority. These are people who find the personal power to act beyond the supermarket clothes hues of their smothering lives but when they do it is in futile acts of rage. But this is not the rage of drunken yobbos or soccer hooligans but the infernal seething resentment of the middling.

Chris cannot create a humorous shell around the sniffiness of the middle class campers, even after he aggressively raced them for the better camping spot and spitefully broke a plate in their vintage minimalist caravan. He can only plan vengeance. Tina, similarly, cannot let the fun of a bridal party slide as good fun. These are people impossible to identify with and the sin of this lies in the fact of the film's nationality: a UK film that dares to hate its proletarian central figures. This is pretty much the reverse of the carboard middle class villains that mar whatever is salvageable from Mike Leigh's world of the blameless dispossessed. And there is none of the dodgy glamour of Natural Born Killers, either. When Chris and Tina kill they just kill and it is extremely ugly. This film hates its central characters and doesn't mind if you hate them, too.

So what's the point? A pair of leads you can't join in with doing things that a little comedy might cleanse. I don't know beyond the simple desire to shine a torch into the face of subjugated inferiority and look upon the mania of its constant resentment. Basil Fawlty works because his anger always backfires. But Fawlty Towers is a comedy, self-avowed and fulfilled. Sightseers has erroneously been depicted as a knockabout black laugh but there is too much hatred from the creative team even to claim the kind of offputting humour that Chris Morris or Julia Davis trade in.

At the same time I felt there was nothing try-hard about it and given the elements listed above there probably should have been. So why is this going in my top ten for the year? Because I loved it and I don't know why.

PS - this was a MIFF pick from this year's missed festival. I was picking pretty danged well.

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