Horror director Ben Wheatley eases off a little on the terror for his new film, and instead explores that fine line between caravanning, knitting and mass murder. He talks to TARA BRADY
Over the past few years, Ben Wheatley has emerged as the most original, most unnerving chronicler of the English experience. In 2009, Down Terrace, a violent crime thriller set in Brighton, madesomenoise in bloodier corners of the art-house. Last year, Wheatley’s Kill List – a blend of neo-realism and pagan horror – made more than a few critics’ annual top tens.
Now, we get the bizarre, troubling, hilarious Sightseers, a delightful gallimaufry of hand-knit, crotchless underwear and campsite ettiquette. In the broadest possible sense, it’s a very British body pile up.
“I am a Protestant Catholic Jew,” he ponders, during a recent visit to Dublin. “So we are Scottish Irish Welsh and Dutch. Anyone who can row across a small stretch of water, basically. Har, har!”
So, nobody could accuse Wheatley of being a Little Englander. His films are, however, as unmistakably English as the fey warbles of Nick Drake or warm beer made from beaks and twigs. Just look at Sightseers. (No really, do. You can’t miss it.)
Steve Oram and Alice Lowe – who also devised the script – play a pair of oddballs who, while caravanning in various drab English locations, take to murdering anybody who offends their touchy sensibilities. We are not the first people to describe it as Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May crossed with . . . Well, something more horrible.
“Nuts in Mayis a tricky one to compare,” he says. “It’s quite broad in its way. ‘Kitchen sink’ is also hard to define. I have been talking to people and they’ve been saying ‘it’s kitchen sink’ and I have to ask: what are those movies? Is it The L-Shaped Room? Look Back in Anger? Is it Leigh’s work? Is it more like neo-realism? It’s about shooting in the real world and showing all the crap -- not tarting it up. It’s a very broad definition.”
Featuring two characters who, for all their psychoses, are very hard to hate – they abhor all the right things – the film does have the organic roughness of Mike Leigh’s work. The jokes are perfectlyformed. Butthe film stillhasanimprovised feel.
“This started before Kill List. I knew that was coming and I wanted something that I could shoot the next year,” he says. “I wanted something that wasn’t horror. The stuff I was going to do after that was very complex. And I wanted to do something that was less complex and had more improv. It was my last hurrah to all that. I pitched it that the script was a jumping off point and we’d work from that.”