SIGHTSEERS directed by Ben Wheatley, written by Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, with Lowe, Oram, Eileen Davies and Richard Lumsden. A Mongrel Media release. 88 minutes. Opens Friday (May 31). For venues and times, see listings.
Ben Wheatley is explaining the difference between the good kind of murder and the bad kind of murder.
The good kind of murder, he says, is the stuff of his new comedy, Sightseers, about a slightly peculiar couple (Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, who also scripted) whose first caravan holiday through the English Midlands and West Country leaves a bloody body count in its wake.
The bad kind of murder, he says, is the sort he'd dealt with in his last movie, Kill List.
"What was really attractive about this," Wheatley says, sitting next to Lowe in a suite at the Royal York, "was we had an opportunity to do something that was really improv and funny rather than the misery that was Kill List. On a basic level, that's what it was really about."
When Wheatley talks about the misery of Kill List, he doesn't mean the pain of shooting it. That was actually pretty easy. He's talking about the suffering he inflicted on his audience. A thriller about two hit men whose new assignment leads them into a dark, dark place, Kill List is an excruciating, almost unrelentingly tense experience, as anyone who caught it at TIFF's 2011 Midnight Madness screenings will attest.
"I felt guilty after Kill List," says the director. "I really did! You know, we watched it with people, and they were horrified and really upset. I was watching and going, ‘Shit, I could have done anything, and I made this. Why did I do it?' And I absolutely understand why I did it, but if I could make something that would make people laugh...."
"You had to give something back," says Lowe, laughing a little herself.
Wheatley nods. "I was so avoiding saying that, because it sounds like the most fucking terrible conceited bullshit. But, yeah, I wanted to do something that I could watch in the editing room and laugh instead of going, [panting] ‘Okay, okay.'"
With Sightseers, Wheatley could kill people without feeling too bad about it - as long as he kept sight of the movie's larger metaphor, Lowe explains.
"I think there's something interesting about relationships," she says. "Me and Steve got a lot of inspiration from our [respective] parents - watching them bicker on a family holiday, and laughing about that experience. I think when a couple stays together it's because of compromises they've both made. That's what the story of the film is, really - how much you're willing to compromise to stay together, and that's something that's relatable to the audience. We knew if we could get that, clinch it, then people would be able to identify with the characters and go, ‘My god, this is like the first holiday I went on with my girlfriend, except we didn't kill anyone.'"
"‘Or not that many people, at least,'" Wheatley laughs.
Lowe giggles, too. "‘Yeah, just the one. We tried it once, but it wasn't our thing.'"