Sightseers (StudioCanal) tells the story of hot-headed Chris (Steve Oram) who wants to give his girlfriend Tina (Alice Lowe) a glimpse into his life by whisking her away from her domineering mother and on a caravan holiday across the North of England. Chris’s hand-picked itinerary includes regional hot-spots such as the Crich Tramway Museum, the Ribblehead Viaduct and the Keswick Pencil Museum, but his grand plans quickly fall apart when an insolent litterbug rubs him up the wrong way.
Chris’s unhinged response sets in motion a violent chain of events, and anyone who breaches his rigorous moral code finds themselves in his clumsy crosshairs. Inevitably, when timid Tina develops a taste for Chris’s psychopathic handling of minor transgressions things go from bad to worse
Over the course of three features -Down Terrace, Kill List and now Sightseers -Ben Wheatley has carved himself a seriously impressive reputation, and arguably positioned himself as one of the most compelling British directors of his generation. Combining his twin preoccupations for suburban whimsy and bloody violence, Sightseers is a fitting continuation of Wheatley’s earlier work, even if the film’s more overtly comic tone initially seems half a world away from the demented hitman-voodoo fusion of Kill List. Featuring pitch-perfect performances from its two leads -who also co-wrote the script -Sightseers is an unadulterated dark comedy. While I preferred Kill List on the whole, Sightseers is undeniably a more fully rounded picture, and offers a very welcome change of pace. A breath of fresh air, quite literally.
In The Hunt (Arrow Films) Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Valhalla Rising) stars as Lucas, a 40-something nursery school teacher who is slowly putting his life back together after a bitter divorce, which saw his teenage son Marcus taken away from him. With a new girlfriend and an imminent reconciliation with his son raising his spirits, Lucas’s world is promptly turned upside down when an over-imaginative youngster accuses him of an inappropriate act. Although it is an utterly random lie, plucked out of the ether after a glimpse at her teenage brother’s online pornography, the accusation proves impossible to ignore, and spreads like wildfire around the small community. When the initial shock wears off it is replaced by outright hostility, and it isn’t log before a fully-fledged witch-hunt ensues.
Directed by ‘Dogme 95’ figurehead Thomas Vinterberg -who explored similar territory with 1998’s Festen -The Hunt is a chilling study of small town prejudice. Never one to shy away from controversial material, Vinterberg conjures up a ghastly, utterly plausible, scenario and prods it until it is raw. Interestingly, there is no ambiguity in The Hunt, and all of the dramatic tension is derived from the queasy way in which the terrifying scenario snowballs into genuinely stomach-churning territory. After an excellent opening segues into a troubling mid-section The Hunt loses its way slightly as it reaches the final third, with the overwhelming mood of suspicion ebbing away a tad too early. Nevertheless, a challenging, involving picture, and one that reaffirms Vinterberg’s transgressive credentials.
Maximum Conviction (StudioCanal) is the latest slab of cinematic carnage in the long and eventful career of 60-year-old Aikido instructor, environmentalist, deputy sheriff and sometime action hero Steven Seagal. The main-man stars as former Black Ops soldier turned military prison expert Cross, who -along with his right-hand-man Manning (ex-wrestler ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin) -is assigned to decommission an old jail and safely transport all of the detainees to a new site. However, the task is complicated by a side job that involves the temporary arrival of two high-profile female prisoners. Before the job can be completed satisfactorily a squad of highly-trained mercenaries storm the prison, forcing our intrepid heroes to take back control of prison and uncover the true story behind the enigmatic female arrivals.
After a weirdly enjoyable detour into the TV cop-show genre with True Justice, Maximum Conviction finds Seagal back doing his day job, and unfortunately it sees him slump back into the undemanding groove of his earlier straight-to-DVD era work. A hotch-potch of bullet-strew action set-pieces and meandering conspiracy theory subplots, Maximum Conviction is Seagal-by-numbers and a handful of sweaty close-contact scuffles only serve to underline his sluggish latter-day demeanour.
The presence of imposing co-star Steve Austin also serves to highlight Seagal’s physical decline, and it is fairly obvious which man you would trust to watch your back if you were fighting his way out of a prison full of heavily armed mercenaries! All in all, it may not be Seagal’s worst movie -that dubious honour still falls to the notorious Black Dawn -but nor is Maximum Conviction the step up in quality that some fans may be expecting after the slick thrills of True Justice. For hardcore fans only.