A version of this feature was originally published in the November 2012 issue of Clash.
It’s a freezing cold November morning and, miles from London, deep in the heart of the Lake District, filming is under way on Ben Wheatley’s latest madcap endeavour. Sightseers, a film variously described by its cast as the bastard lovechild of Badlands and Terry and June, is a typically Wheatley-esque affair – a term that needs no explanation for those familiar with the director’s oeuvre.
Written by stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, the film chronicles the exploits of two volatile caravanning enthusiasts whose quiet holiday descends in to a bloodbath. Originally conceived as a comedy series, it was rejected as being “too dark” for television.
“Nothing’s too dark for Ben though,” exclaims Lowe gleefully. “If anything, this is probably normal for him.”
‘Normal’ is relative, wherever Ben Wheatley is concerned. But while it may seem a far cry from his breakout hit, the broodingly sinister Kill List, it’s easy to see why he was a natural fit for the material.
“Tourist sites are really weird, aren’t they?” muses Lowe. “You kind of go, ‘why hasn’t anybody done this before?’” In relation to our protagonists, Chris and Tina, however, the locales seem comparatively normal.
“They’re a bit like the weird side of yourself that you could have been if you’d kept living in your hometown,” explains Lowe with a telling smile. “They’re nerds really,” interjects Oram. “But quite sinister ones.”
At the time of our interview, the crew are midway through a shoot that, amongst other things, has been beset by torrential downpours and seen its key prop, the caravan, overturned in gale force winds. To say that it’s been a far cry from the average film shoot is an understatement.
With a background in virals and commercials, Wheatley’s kinetic approach to filmmaking is self-evident. “Viral’s all about this idea of boiling down gags in to tiny nuggets,” he explains. “It makes you quite concise.” It’s an approach that’s certainly paid dividends, affording Sightseers a snappy, razor-sharp quality long since absent from British filmmaking.
“We wanted to mix a kind of Withnail & I / Mike Leigh sensibility with really dark stuff,” Lowe exclaims. “To try and make a modern hybrid of things that British comedy does really well but we don’t really exploit as much as we could do.”