Interview: Ben Wheatley talks ‘Kill List’ and ‘Sightseers’

A scene from Sightseers

Last year, British director Ben Wheatley wowed audiences worldwide with his mind-bending occult chiller, Kill List. Changing gear somewhat, Wheatley then teamed up with Edgar Wright (as Executive Producer), Alice Lowe and Steve Oram (as writers and stars) to direct the hilarious black comedy Sightseers, which follows two lovebirds who embark on a murderous rampage through the Yorkshire Dales. We got the inside scoop from Mr. Wheatley himself.

Warning: there are a couple of spoilers!

GFW: As a filmmaker, what excites you about the characters of the killers in love, Tina and Chris?

Ben Wheatley: I like Chris because he’s anarchic and he does things that I would never have the balls to do.

So you fantasise in a way?

Yeah, exactly, but I’ve got morals which stop me doing that stuff. But I like the fact that he’s so creative and anarchic… I think I understand the frustrations of both of them. The class stuff in it – I can understand that; the anger of being at the bottom of the pile and you’re looking up and everyone’s got their place in it.

Being a road movie, you must’ve visited a lot of interesting places, not least the pencil museum; what was the most fun on-set experience?

Erm, the best experience I had on the movie was when we were up at the top of the crag where Ian gets killed with a rock, and it was this incredible morning and I’ve never seen anything like it, so it was incredibly lucky that it was so beautiful – and to be there with a film crew and capture it was pretty amazing.

What do you think of caravanning? Do you do it yourself?

Nah, I’ve gone camping a lot. But I was really surprised by how big the caravan was when I finally got in it, and it’s actually pretty comfortable. So I thought, ‘this is great’. We went around a lot of different caravan sites and some of them were a bit weird – there was one we went to that was literally by the side of a motorway. You just think, ‘why?’

Must be strange people.

Well, I think it’s more like that’s a staging post going out to other stuff. Some of them are really bleak; some of them are really beautiful.

A scene from Sightseers
So what were the people like there?

They were really friendly, really open – good people.

Not psycho killers, then.

Nah, it would be disingenuous to suggest that all caravan people are murderers, in the same way as to say everyone in Texas wants to murder you with a chainsaw.

What similarities do you see between Kill List and Sightseers?

On a very basic level it’s about a couple driving around in a car, stopping off and murdering people, so it’s pretty similar in that respect [laughs]. I think stylistically it’s different, the violence is held back, I think.

But what about the man who’s going to report the poo to the National Trust?

Yeah, yeah, I don’t think that violence is uncommon; if you look at [Terry] Gilliam’s stuff… I mean Brazil is full of those kind of weird, horrible moments and certainly in The Fisher King when Robin Williams’ wife gets her face blown off with a shotgun. They don’t cut away from that; you see it full on. But it’s important because it says to the audience that it’s complicated, it’s not just an easy laugh; there’s a thought.

The gore in both films is pretty spectacular though, and it seems fresh when compared to most films. Do you get excited about shooting these scenes?

Not really, I mean I like [Paul] Verhoeven a lot and that kind of sensibility… There’s also a lot of shit in Sightseers, you know, and there’s bodily stuff and sick and all these different things we do.

A scene from Sightseers

It’s important to show what we actually do.

Yeah, you know, I’d like to see a film with Brad Pitt in it where he had a poo… [laughs]

Wouldn’t we all.

Yeah, these things are a part of life, you know. We’re not like Easter eggs; we’ve got stuff inside us and when we get hurt these things come out.

Both films feel very musical in a psychedelic way – is music something that directly influences your films?

I tend to put together a Spotify playlist when I’m working on a film. And then I try and have a scheme for how I’m going to use music in the film – not just “there’s a scene with a bridge so let’s look for songs with a bridge in.”

Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’?

[Laughs] Exactly, so it’s gotta fit together, and one of the big thrills with film is like when music and picture and sound design comes together. That’s how you grab the audience.

So what kind of stuff were you listening to?

I was listening to a lot of German prog rock stuff, like Popol Vuh. And then one of Edgar Wright’s notes was “don’t be afraid to use pop music,” and I was like, “yeah, fuck it” – because I come from a low-budget background and pop music always scares me because it’s expensive. And I thought, “what can I use?”… ‘Tainted Love’ is such a particular track because it’s a brilliant track and it’s really modern but it’s not a joke. It’s not like ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ or something like that. I basically looked at my Spotify list to see what I liked.

What kind of films did you grow up watching? Were horror films your thing?

I liked James Bond movies actually. The first films we rented from the video shop were Watership Down and Death Race 2000, so I don’t know what that says. But war films I liked a lot, stuff like that. It was only when I went to college when I saw the [French] New Wave stuff and then American directors of the ‘70s.

Can you tell me briefly about your next film, A Field in England, and where you’re at with it?

It’s shot and we’re cutting it but we staggered into the long grass with a month of Sightseers publicity.

So it’s another rural film. I take it you’re not a city kind of guy?

It is set in a field. I don’t know… It’s very psychedelic. It’s a period film meets a Roger Corman film from the ‘60s.

Written by Oliver Lunn. Follow Oliver on Twitter: @OliverLunn.

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