It’s hard to describe just what it is that makes Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers by far one of the more incredible blisteringly dark comedies of the last several decades without giving away too much, but suffice to say Wheatley is in top form with his latest effort.
The film became a celebrated and award-winning crowd-pleaser throughout its 2012 festival tour and is absolutely worth seeking out now that it’s playing in select theaters.
Bleakly hilarious, awkwardly heartfelt and often shocking even at the most seemingly banal of moments, Sightseers follows new lovers Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) on their first road trip together that starts off innocently enough but soon escalates into a series of twisted and delightfully disturbing murders once their true colors are revealed during their travels throughout the British countryside.
Dread Central recently had the opportunity to chat with Wheatley about taking the directorial reins for Sightseers and returning to his pitch black comedic roots the award-winning UK filmmaker established with his caustically funny crime thriller Down Terrace from just a few years ago. Wheatley also discussed collaborating with Sightseers stars Lowe and Oram, who also co-wrote the script, and updated us on several of his upcoming projects, including developing a new series with HBO which was recently announced.
Check out the highlights of our interview with Wheatley below and look for Sightseers in limited theaters now!
Dread Central: So I completely fell in love with this movie- the humor was so wicked that I often felt like a complete jerk laughing at some of the stuff I was laughing at. Was the humor a huge part of the appeal for you? Had you wanted to do something a little different after Kill List, which had a far more serious tone to it?
Ben Wheatley: Well, it’s kind of interesting because I had actually agreed to direct Sightseers before I made Kill List, but I was conscientious that Kill List was going to be a really intense horror movie and so I wanted the next thing I did to be a little more funny and maybe lighthearted, although I don’t know if that’s the right word considering the story (laughs). It all worked out really well that after I got off doing Down Terrace, which was more comedic, that I would do a really intense horror movie like Kill List and then would circle back to comedy again with Sightseers.
Dread Central: I thought Steve and Alice were just fantastic together in the film- can you talk about working with them on Sightseers and whether or not you guys used a lot of improv while shooting? Also, do you think that because they co-wrote the script that allowed them to elevate their performances in some ways because they had so much insight into their respective characters?
Ben Wheatley: Yeah, both of them were simply fantastic and I would definitely say that part of it was because they had written these characters but also part of it is that they’re just that bloody great. I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else for those roles and their instincts are what makes this story stand out in the ways that it does. And because of their performances, you sympathize with Chris and Tina as characters and that’s really the only way the movie can work; they have to be honest and fully-rounded characters in order for you to want to take this journey with them.
In my mind, that’s why there’s a certain amount of time at the beginning of the film where you really get to know the two of them and get invested in them because if you just start off with them killing people and no sort of context of them as people included, it’s really hard to get invested.
And we had a really good script so we used that for most of production; we shot the script out and then we’d shoot things around the script and then we would just make stuff up as well so there was a little improv. I’m someone who is known for encouraging improv during shooting but when it came time to edit the film, most of what you see is what was in the script. We shot about 120 hours of footage so it ended up being a battle between the script footage and the improv footage; either way, it was a gift to be able to have so much to work with.
Dread Central: And what’s coming up next for you? I know there was an HBO series that was recently announced- do you have a few more features in the works as well?
Ben Wheatley: Oh definitely- my next project is a feature in fact. It’s called A Field in England; it takes place during the 17th century when the English Civil War was happening here. It’s about this group of army deserters who are out looking for gold but end up finding something else in the form of these magical mushrooms. It gets pretty weird as you can imagine (laughs).
It’s still really early for the HBO project so we’re still early in the development stages; it’s still up to them if they want to pick it up or not based on the pilot so we’ll see how it goes. There’s also a sci-fi project I’m working on too that should be ready to go later this year.
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