The rare trick director Ben Wheatley pulled off in last year's skin-crawling psychological horror Kill List was to craft an unsettling, increasingly nightmarish story around characters who we genuinely cared for. What's at once brazenly exciting and slightly problematic about his third film Sightseers is that we're never given much reason to care for its central duo; young couple Tina (Alice Lowe) and Chris (Steve Oram), whose low-rent countryside holiday takes a turn for the casually psychotic.
You might think that touring the north of England in a run-down caravan, stopping off only to check out such attractions as the Keswick Pencil Museum and Crich Tramway Village sounds grim enough in itself, and you'd be right. But the sheltered Tina is keen to get away from her overbearing and manipulative elderly mother, who's seemingly determined to prevent her from ever leaving home, and so this uninspiring trip becomes an escape.
Once they're out on the open road, though, it becomes clear that Chris has some raging unresolved anger issues and a huge chip on his shoulder about the state of British society. Soon enough an incident of run-of-the-mill rudeness pushes him over the edge, and the couple dive headfirst into their own violent, frequently farcical, consistently entertaining abyss.
Lowe and Oram's script doesn't offer much in the way of backstory, but we learn enough - Chris has been forced out of work by bullying, Alice has spent most of her adult life under her mum's controlling thumb. Both are lifelong doormats eager to take back the power they've never had, and as outlandish as Sightseers' vigilante violence becomes, it never feels unmotivated thanks to this subtly laid groundwork.
Wheatley's trademark knack for getting naturalistic, spontaneous performances out of his actors makes the pair more fun to spend time with than they should be, but the problem of investment still remains. You simply don't care about these people, who are not heroic enough to be anti-heroes, nor clever enough to be villains, nor deliberate enough to be vigilantes. In contrast to Wheatley's last two films, there is no lasting impact here - Sightseers is distinctly lightweight, demanding little and leaving little in its wake.
Nonetheless, there's plenty of shrewd class warfare digs - "He's not a person, he's a Daily Mail reader," Chris snarls of one unsuspecting victim - while the Yorkshire dales offer Wheatley some striking, bleakly beautiful shots.
Sightseers' lack of emotional depth doesn't diminish what's a tremendously enjoyable and consistently surprising tragicomedy, a heightened look at two very broken people in meltdown.
Photo gallery - 'Sightseers' in pictures: