From Badlands to Natural Born Killers , lovers-on-the-run flicks take pulp-fiction narratives for romantic rides across America, the sweep and the drama of the scenery matching the magnitude of the heroes’ emotions - and their crimes.
The genius of
director Ben Wheatley’s third film, a parochial black comedy based on a screenplay by lead actors Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, is that it takes all this cultural baggage and transports it, by caravan, to Redditch.
As normal-seeming new boyfriend Chris (Oram) whisks homebody Tina (Lowe) away on a UK holiday, the trail of deaths they cause begins mundanely, with a car park-based RTA at the Crich Tramway Museum.
The settings more than match, as the pair explore Little England in all its pretty pettiness, from Castleton’s Blue John Cavern to Keswick’s Pencil Museum. Even their star-crossed love is constantly undercut by their deadpan patter, not to mention Tina’s penchant for pot pourri and crotchless (but crocheted) knickers
When she envisages them dying together in the name of romance, Chris’s response is characteristically practical/Partridge-esque. “Going to salsa's romantic,” he says. “We could try that first.”
It might not sound much on paper, but it’s all in the delivery, the appealing lead performances combining with Wheatley's sudden tonal shifts to produce a film that’s funny, sinister and strangely moving.
Don't write in, but the Midlands accents help here: unpretentious and unexpected, they bring to mind Shane Meadows’ early work (which this strongly recalls) and undercut the characters' more extreme pronouncements. “He's ruined the tram museum for me now,” huffs Chris of his first victim, while Tina’s attempt to talk dirty results in: “He said he wanted to shit in my hand and make me use it as a brown lipstick!”
Between killer lines and skull-cracking murders, there's a weary reality that makes Sightseers sad where lesser works might skew silly. As Tina's fear of being left behind by Chris lead them further along the road to ruin, their deteriorating relationship is echoed by the increasingly desolate surroundings.
One scene ends with a dog eating sick - you don’t see that in True Romance . Another, in Keswick Pencil Museum, leaves you unsure whether to laugh or cry.
It may peter out a little towards the end, as all road movies must, but for the most part this is a staycation to cherish.
At first Father Ted cute, but then League Of Gentlemen cruel - a combination that Wheatley never lets curdle - this is a dark little delight.