It might not have been a banner year for comedy movies so far, but there's one shining light arriving this week (for U.K. audiences at least -- American crowds are going to have to wait another few months), in the shape of "Sightseers," the third feature from "Down Terrace" and "Kill List" director Ben Wheatley. Blending the outstanding visuals and unsettling sound of the director's earlier films with a unique pitch-black sensibility, it also sees the arrival of two fully-formed comic talents on the world scene, in the shape of the film's stars and writers, Alice Lowe and Steve Oram.
Both have been familiar to fans of British comedy for a while -- Lowe, with Richard Ayoade, Matthew Holness and Matt Berry, was one of the members of cult comedy "Garth Marenghi's Darkplace," along with extensive other credits, while Oram's been a favorite on the live scene for some time -- without quite being household names. But since "Sightseers" premiered at Cannes back in May to rave reviews (including ours), it looks like, happily, they're going to be major presences in cinematic comedy for some time to come.
Based on a script by the pair (with additional material from Wheatley's partner Amy Jump), the film sees Lowe play Tina, a woman from the Midlands still living at home with her mother (Eileen Davies), and mourning the death of her beloved dog. Her new boyfriend Chris (Oram) takes her away on a caravanning holiday, which nearly unravels after a horrific accident. But the pair soon discover a taste for death, which they start to unleash on all the petty annoyances they come across.
Having talked with Wheatley about the film at TIFF back in September, we were lucky enough to have a chat with Lowe and Oram at the BFI London Film Festival last month, the night after the film's premiere, to dig into the genesis and evolution of "Sightseers." In the film, it's revealed that Chris and Tina met at a capoeira class, but as it turns out, the first encounter between Lowe and Oram was rather more prosaic; at the Edinburgh festival, the month-long marathon of comedy that the world stand-up and sketch industry revolves around.
And it wasn't long before the two crossed paths again, with Oram explaining "We probably started working together at Ealing Live, which was a now defunct sketch and character night at Ealing Studios, about seven or eight years ago." Lowe adds, "It was people like [TV comedy actress] Katy Brand, ['Bunny and the Bull' star] Simon Farnaby, [sitcom megastar] Miranda Hart, Steve's double act partner Tom Meeten, lots of people who are now working on TV. They were trying to make it like 'Saturday Night Live,' they said we're not going to pay you, but we'll supply you with rehearsal space, and a director, which was a great thing, really. So we started working together as a group, and bonded, and found lots of creative ideas, it was a creative time."
But it sounds like the material was of a similarly dark nature to "Sightseers." "We were the weirdos," Lowe said, with a laugh. "One of our sketches, in Edinburgh, someone shouted from the audience 'This is an outrage!'" Oram elaborates: "That was me wheeling her around, she was sort of semi-dead woman, and I was a medical orderly, wheeling her around stage. Doing a sort of sexy dance. And accidentally, she fell out of the chair, and someone found it really offensive. I think we were playing to the wrong audience... That was the last time we did it."
It was around this time that the seeds for what would become Chris and Tina first emerged. "It came from us, really, from our Midlands background and shared experiences of holidays. The funny concept of the Brummie geek going on holiday and killing people, that was the first idea, and we followed it through to the bitter end," Oram said. From there, they started workshopping the characters on the live comedy circuit occasionally, and quite soon, the TV world started sniffing around. "We had quite a lot of people expressing interest," Lowe said, "saying I think there's some depth to this, you can take it further. So we developed it as a TV idea, and did a little taster, and made the decision to make a short film. We could have done a rubbish trailer, like you do, but we wanted to make something that stands alone, and I'm really glad we did that, because all the TV channels rejected it, they said it's too dark, we don't want dark at the moment."