Taking a much-needed break from her overbearing mum (Eileen Davies) and still grieving for the household’s long-dead dog, wallflower Alice Lowe goes road-tripping through central and northern England with her new boyfriend (Steve Oram). So far, so innocuous—until, seemingly by accident, he runs over a vacationer he’s previously called out for littering a trolley. The pair treat this vehicular slaughter, replete with gushing neck wound, as matter-of-fact, just a bloody shame. It’s so inconsequential to them that, only minutes after visiting the police, they’re boning in their trailer.
The rest of Sightseers proceeds through a similar alternation of shocks and mundane couples’ drama. It turns out this won’t be the last murder, or the last time the camping lovers act as if homicide is nothing more than a minor setback on the road to domestic happiness. (“You can’t do things like that,” she complains after learning her man has killed the owner of the pooch they’ve just kidnapped. “It’s gonna ruin the holiday.”) These blasé non-reactions seemingly constitute the movie’s only joke; there’s little else here apart from some role reversal. (Soon someone dies for accusing them of littering; Lowe, who initially appears to be the less dangerous half of the duo, eventually gets in on the spree.)
It’s theoretically possible to make a single-minded dark comedy about inadvertent death—there was a pretty good Hitchcock picture about some trouble with a man named Harry—but it requires build-up, complications, and a sense of the unexpected. Scripted by the two leads (with “additional material” by Amy Jump and an executive-producer sign-off from Edgar Wright), the film proceeds with a lazy, sketch-like feel that makes more sense after considering that these characters began on stage; the material was reconceived as a movie after a TV pilot failed to ignite. The relentless contrast of banality with horror seems to be Wheatley’s signature move, and like his Kill List (2011), Sightseers can claim a sizable fan base, especially in its native U.K. But the humor here, ironically, doesn’t travel well.