Dark tourism: folk horror and national identity in the films of Ben Wheatley

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


In this paper I develop an argument concerning the significance of Ben Wheatley’s contribution to contemporary cinematic folk horror, with a particular emphasis on national identity and the ‘problem’ of England.

I argue that in Wheatley’s ‘folk quadrilogy’, a skilfully anachronistic layering of slices of historical time provides a parallax view on contemporary, everyday Englishness. Down Terrace (2009), Kill List (2011), Sightseers (2012) and A Field in England (2013) are films with worlds that are menaced by untimely interventions. In these films, I argue, it is neoliberal transformation which is figured as the enigmatic power that determines the organisation of characters’ misery. It is this transformation, considered here as a weird turn that Wheatley’s films address .
Kill List and A Field in England have received considerable critical attention and achieved cult status as contemporary folk horror classics, but it is Sightseers that I shall focus on as an intriguing blend of black comedy, cartoonish violence, and hauntological aesthetics. Macfarlane (2015) in his survey of a specifically British ‘new weird’ literature, painting, film and photography asserts that ‘among the shared landmarks of this terrain are ruins, fields, pits, fringes, relics, buried objects, hilltops, falcons, demons and deep pasts’. I consider how Macfarlane’s slippage from agricultural and industrial capitalism (fields, pits) to cosmology (demons, deep pasts) is reproduced in Sightseers’ killer-tourists’ visits to pencil museums, industrial Heritage viaducts, and Neolithic sites. The film’s holidaymakers’ stupefying trail of destruction, in which nationally sanctified space is stained with blood and brains, will be considered as a weirdly effective response to the problem of England’s heritage-obsessed morbidity and its neoliberal enclosure.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sept 2019
EventFolk Horror in the 21st Century - Falmouth University, Falmouth, United Kingdom
Duration: 4 Sept 20196 Sept 2019


ConferenceFolk Horror in the 21st Century
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Folk horror
  • Ben Wheatley


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