Black Comedy – NZFF Day 8

Still from Sightseers

Sightseers is the most classic example of deadpan, British black comedy involving light-hearted bloodshed you ever will see. The story follows a young couple as they roadtrip up the Yorkshire coast in a caravan to see all sorts of kooky national landmarks (a tram museum, a pencil factory, etc.). Girlfriend Tina is a dowdy 30-something who lives with her dog-obsessed mother in their kitschy, crochet-filled flat, while her boyfriend Chris is a good-natured bear of a fellow with a big ginger beard. Despite her mother’s conspicuous disapproval they stock up their caravan and head out on the road together, gently snarking at each other over trivialities and rocking the caravan with their boisterous lovemaking. That is, until they meet an unrepentant serial litterer and Chris backs over him with their trailer. Thus begins their descent into darkness as they journey up the coastline, killing off douchebags as they go. There’s the pompous couple in the caravan park that belittle their fashion choices, a holier-than-thou cross-country walker who insists they pick up their doggy doodoo, an unsuspecting runner along the road, the bride-to-be that runs awry of Tina when she hooks up with Chris during a bachelorette party… all of them succumb to the rapidly unraveling mental states of the two travelers. They kill out of frustration, anger, boredom, and possessiveness, and their newly-minted relationship begins to suffer and disintegrate in the process.

The wonderful thing about Sightseers is that it attempts to be something a little bit more than just a black comedy (or rather, perhaps it succeeds at doing this precisely because it’s a black comedy). You can enjoy the film on the surface of its absurdity, but its complicated characters ask you to invest a little bit more than the average. Its characters are likeable, awkward, lonely, and slightly bizarre, perfectly depicted through their tastes for things like giant souvenir pencils and hot pink, hand-crocheted crotchless panty sets. Chris channels a deeply repressed, frustrated “writer” with absolutely no ideas, while Tina just wants the simple things in life (her teacup-sized puppy and a partner that isn’t her oppressive mother). While Chris finds himself killing out a of rapidly-developing state of uncontrollable rage and frustration, Tina finds herself gaining confidence by harnessing an anger she didn’t even know she had. It asks all sorts of fun questions, like “How much is too much?” and “Just how far will you go for someone you love?” and “Can you ever truly act without some hint of selfish motivation?” But if there’s just one thing to take away from this film, it’s this: it truly is the quiet ones you need to be afraid of!

*The movie was also preceded by the hilariously dark short film Bear, a preview of which can be seen below. The full version is currently only being shown at film festivals, but it’s so surprising that I don’t want to ruin the ending for you! I’ll post it here as soon as the full version is available online*

…..

An alternative for those who enjoy 90s horror movies, government conspiracy thrillers, Joss Whedon or a combination of the above (I’m looking at you, Tim!), The Cabin In The Woods is the flick for you. It’s an ode to classic genre conventions that finds five friends (the jock, the blonde, the stoner, the geek, and the improbably hot virgin) taking a weekend trip to a remote cabin in the woods. Things start to go downhill almost immediately, and it’s a typical bloodbath from there. A hilarious, surprisingly smart, hugely entertaining and inventive bloodbath.

Writers Josh Whedon (the brains behind visionary series like Buffy The Vampire SlayerFirefly, Serenity, and Dollhouse) and Drew Goddard flip the horror genre on its head by harnessing every convention in the book. The over-used “cabin-in-the-woods” cliche suddenly finds itself bookended within the context of a top-secret, multinational military science experiment whose purpose isn’t revealed in full until the very end. Of course there are all the typical paradigms you expect to find in horror movies (supernatural elements, killers out for vengeance, allegories about sex, consumerism, voyuerism etc.), but it’s also wonderfully nuanced and un-self-conscious. Each of the stereotypical characters embodies more than you would have expected — the virgin isn’t actually a virgin, for example — and it takes a playful approach to all of those horror movie cliches we’re all so used to. At the same time, the film’s set about 30 IQ points higher than it needs to be. (It has a lot to say about the entertainment industry, man’s appetite for violence and our age-old relationship with the supernatural, for example). It even has some playful commentary on the demonization of cannabis! If that’s not enough to convince you, the cast also involves Chris Hemsworth (Thor), the Oscar-nominated Richard Jenkins, half the cast from Dollhouse, and SIGOURNEY FUCKING WEAVER. Enough said.

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