Ever seen someone thoughtlessly cast an ice cream wrapper on the floor and felt the desire to viciously murder them?
Chris has. And what’s more, in Brighton-based director Ben Wheatley’s third feature film, he gives in to that desire, beginning a trail of bloodshed spreading across some of the UK’s most picturesque locations, much to the joy of his new girlfriend Tina.
Based around two characters created by actors and writers Steve Oram and Alice Lowe, Sightseers grew from a real-life trip around northern Britain, with Wheatley invited to join in the trip by producers Nira Park and Edgar Wright – director of cult hits Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz.
“I’d worked with Steve and Alice before on The Wrong Door for BBC Three,” says Wheatley, who was also behind claustrophobic gangster tale Down Terrace and cult horror hit Kill List.
“I saw the short film version they had made about these two characters five years ago. It fitted in with what I wanted to do next.”
Wheatley’s wife, Amy Jump, joined forces with Oram and Lowe to create a full-length script, which followed a route created by Oram’s father Eddie.
“He drew up an itinery of places to visit, starting from the Midlands up to the Lake District,” says Wheatley. “Steve and Alice went on a research trip and travelled around these places.
“You could do a Sightseers tour if you so wished! We didn’t need to dress anything up or exaggerate anything.”
The tour around the country takes in the Crich Tramway Museum, the Ribblehead Viaduct, Keswick Pencil Museum and the surrounding countryside, stopping off in caravan sites and truckstop laybys.
“You tend to see the UK in heritage films,” says Wheatley. “It’s in those adaptations of great British novels from the 18th century with horses and buggies riding through it, or Mr Darcy stumbling out of a pond. It is hard to film in Britain because the weather is so terrible in a lot of these landscapes.
“I came to accept the rain – it’s not the end of the world if you get a little bit – as long as you’ve got decent waterproofs on it doesn’t matter.”
Murder finds its way into this sublime landscape, as Chris becomes more tense and easy to anger, and Tina begins to get excited by it.
“You have to try to make all the characters human,” says Wheatley. “It’s quite a dangerous concept, this idea that people are literally evil. Everyone has good points and bad points – it’s just some people’s bad points are worse than others.
“The film is more about a couple exploring what they like about each other. Couples like to have sex but they also like to show each other different hobbies and sometimes make allowances for each other.”
He was keen that the audience think about the reality of what was happening on screen.
“In action movies it ends up with lots of people being shot and it’s all seen as OK,” he says. “There is a consequence to the stuff that these characters do. It becomes very glib if you’re offing people and the audience are clapping and cheering in the cinema.”
He feels the ongoing success of gangster and crime movies was partly down to wish fulfilment on the part of the audience.
“Bonnie And Clyde wasn’t about going out and killing people, it was about standing up against authority,” he says. “There are so many crime films and gangster films because it is about work and business, about rising up and getting rid of your boss. If you set the film in a carpet firm, it wouldn’t be that interesting, so it becomes about gangsters and criminals.
“I would like to think Chris does things you wish you could do, but at the same time it shows the dangers of doing these things and the morality behind it. If you take it to the extreme then you get lost very quickly.”
At present Wheatley is working on A Field In England – a period drama set during the English Civil War, which stars The Mighty Boosh’s Julian Barratt, Reece Shearsmith from The League Of Gentlemen and comedian Michael Smiley, who previously starred in Down Terrace and Kill List.
“It’s quite a different movie from the others,” says Wheatley. “It’s possibly the best British comedy cast in the least funny film ever made. They end up in a strange field taking lots of magic mushrooms and seeing things.
“Why would you want to make the same thing again and again? There are so many exciting things to do and stories to tell, it seems weird to specialise in one type of story.”
The film has been penned by Wheatley and Jump, drawing on Wheatley’s fascination with the period.
“From my reading of it, the English Civil War was the beginning of modern history,” he says. “The King lost power to Parliament. It laid a lot of groundwork for how to set up a country – it was before the French Revolution or the American War Of Independence.”
For now he is looking forward to showing his latest work in his home town.
“The Duke Of York’s Picturehouse is my local cinema,” he says. “It’s where I’ve gone to watch movies for the past 20 years. It means a lot to show it there.
“I never thought Kill List would get a proper release. When I got a copy of the Duke Of York’s programme and it had Kill List in there it was one of the proudest days of that production.”
- Sightseers screens at Duke Of York’s Picturehouse, Preston Circus, Brighton, on Friday, November 16. Starts 6pm, £9/£8. Call 0871 9025728
- Sightseers opens in cinemas nationwide on Friday, November 30