Cert: 18 Runtime: 92 mins Director: Danny Boyle Cast: Kerry Fox, Ewan McGregor, Christopher Ecclestone, Ken Stott and Keith Allen
I’ve never seen a dead body before. I saw my grandmother of course, but I don’t think that counts. I mean, she was alive at the time
Danny Boyle seemed like he was destined for directorial greatness before the surprise success of “Trainspotting” got to his head. His first two pictures, however, are wonderful. “Shallow Grave” is one of the best modern thrillers I have seen in a long time.Alex (Ewan McGregor), David (Christopher Ecclestone) and Juliet (Kerry Fox) share a flat together and are looking for a new flat mate to help fill the flat out. They see various applicants who don’t fit until they meet the mysterious Hugo (Keith Allen) who is `interesting’ and takes the room. Almost a week goes by and he doesn’t come out of his room once, so they break down Hugo’s door to find him dead with a suitcase full of money. To keep the money, they agree to destroy Hugo’s body and draw straws to see who does the cutting. David ends up doing the deed but it affects him badly and he becomes increasingly erratic and paranoid. Meanwhile two criminals are dredging the underworld looking for the money.A great modern thriller containing all the necessary ingredients of a decent suspense story: constantly growing tension, sly humor, and genuinely surprising plot twists. It’s kind of like a 90s version of a Hitchcock flick (think “Rope”), and like somebody here wrote, once you start watching it you can’t stop.
One of the cool, unnerving things about the film as well is how, after a while, you can’t really be sure who’s really sane or not. But even as it is a story of friends, it is more closer to being Eccleston’s movie, as a character who goes through the darkest change out of the three of them. He starts out as the sanest of the uptight middle class three, or at least the most reasonable when the circumstances strike up. But through grisly turns of events, he becomes the most un-balanced of the bunch, and Boyle is able to get with his DP Brian Tufano some really powerful moments visually up in the attic. As further complications go on, it becomes not really a tale of morality but one of keeping a bond that is breaking always. But the psychological turns are made better, and not too circumspect or dumb, by the actors. In truth, some of what the characters decide and then go through is a bit too implausible even for a thematically violent film like this. But it’s a fresh showcase for all three actors for their gifts- McGregor’s Alex seems like a sociopath through most of the film, and his change doesn’t make him more likable but still very intense by the acting. Eccleston has what should be one of the performances of his career as the mild-mannered and then loose-edged flat-mate. And Kerry Fox is good, if a little typical as the lady of the house. Her own role in the film is further complicated by lustful intentions and all that- she could be considered a femme fatale if it were that easy.
And Shallow Grave is, above all else, a very good film at style trumping the substance, which itself isn’t that bad as being B-movie fare, to which he would put to best use with Trainspotting. Here I’m reminded of the cinematic freedom and inventiveness taken in such ‘pulp’ matter by first time filmmakers in the 90s, and even in the story’s weakest points (and there are a few in due to logic and the dialog sometimes) it’s never boring. There’s a cringe/funny kind of scene with Alex and Juliet using some new merchandise for some lewd and f***ed up purposes, and it’s filmed in a perfectly amateurish way. And in dealing with the more disturbing subject matter, it helps that Boyle and writer John Hodge only show what is necessary (i.e. some of the ‘grave’ scenes) so that it doesn’t become stale or with that sort of kick needed for the material. By the end, too, as in other noir stories, there is a twist that comes, but it isn’t even much expected as the characters have met their fates. But it has the advantage of not being a cop-out either. Shallow Grave is, when it comes down to it, that splendid of things- a directorial calling card that speaks to his skills with actors (more so in casting to a T), mixing comedy and drama, and hip use of camera-work. Nothing really ‘deep’ or great, but it’s a nifty little midnight movie from merry old England.