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is one of several offerings at this year’s Film Comment Selects founded on the belief that places can relate the twists and turns of human psychology often better than humans can themselves. Ben Wheatley’s berserk black comedy Sightseers
follows two love-struck misfits named Tina and Chris—she, a repressed veterinarian craving a break from the influence of her controlling mother; he, a struggling writer with some deep-set class resentment and a violent answer to Britain’s litter problem—on an increasingly bloody camping holiday through the hills, valleys and tourist spots of northern England. In this desolate, mountainous landscape speckled with bizarre rock formations and oddball tourist spots (including real-life museums devoted entirely to trams and pencils), Wheatley found a perfect visual stand-in for his heroes’ increasingly disturbed psyches. “I’m just making inroads into my own mind,” Chris says of his nonexistent book as a shaman drum circle sounds in the hills behind him.
As Chris and Tina transform from social outcasts into avenging opponents of the civilized world—specifically that of contemporary Britain, which Wheatley regards with equal parts fond bemusement and ruthless cynicism—the landscape darkens and deadens. By the end of the trip, the lovers find themselves in a sort of hell, complete with fire and brimstone. Wheatley’s brought us to similar extremes before, but where in Kill List his tonal schizophrenia and fondness for unexpected U-turns felt primed to burst nerves, here he’s after something funnier and more tender. Sightseers inspires the sort of nervous laugher that doubles as a coping mechanism: the product of being too close to, too invested in, and too fond of a couple so unpredictable.