Danny Boyle has put himself on a mainstream map where his name has some pull with audiences. In 1994 though, he was making his directorial debut with none of that recognition. His 1994 film Shallow Grave is a doozy, one that changed his career and sent the British film industry down a detoured path.
Three friends, Alex (Ewan McGregor), David (Christopher Eccleston) and Juliet (Kerry Fox), share an apartment in Edinburgh, Scotland and are looking to take in a fourth roommate. They finally decide on Hugo (Keith Allen), a somewhat mysterious but interesting man about their age, and he moves in quickly. Just a few days later, the trio finds Hugo dead in his room of a drug overdose. More interesting? Alex finds a suitcase packed to the gills with cash. What to do now? The three flatmates decide to dispose of the body -- removing his hands and feet, smashing his skull to pieces -- in a grave in the woods and keep the money for themselves. What seems simple though is far from it as these three soon discover.
Setting the stage for his hit two years later in Trainspotting, Boyle's 'Shallow' is certainly different from just about any movie I've ever seen. The amateur crime aspect is nothing new, but Boyle handles it in ways you wouldn't normally think. He doesn't shy away from the brutality of what they're doing and their repercussions. Some reviews list it as a dark/black comedy, and even though I didn't laugh much, it reminded me somewhat in tone of the dark humor the Coen brothers so often use in dealing with nasty subjects.
As Fox explained it in the special features, this is a movie different from most people's perceptions of a "British movie." It isn't dark, dreary and bleak....well, in visuals at least. Boyle is a very visual conscious director. The apartment is full of bright colors, and that distinct 1990s style is prevalent all around. Alex is a hipster, David a suit-wearing accountant, Juliet a doctor and professional. The style and pacing is kinetic, all over the place, and when things hit the fan, Boyle shoots in the darkness with shadows and a minimal use of lights (flashlights, car headlights illuminating the action). The music threw me off too, from the techno-sounding opening (watch HERE) to the darker, moodier score as the "grave situation" develops. Style-wise, it's easy to see how this film changed the mood and tone of British films for years to come.
Now all that said, I didn't really care for the film much at all. I don't need to love characters -- or even like them really -- to appreciate a movie. Watching awful, despicable characters can be a selling point in a movie. Literally from the first scene here though, I hated...HATED these three main characters. We're introduced to them as they interview applicants for their fourth roommate. McGregor rips the first applicant (Colin McCredie) to pieces, and the gloves come off. They look down on applicants, ripping them to pieces with this type of yuppie-hipster pretentious attitude and within seconds I was rooting against them. To be fair, in the acting department, all three deliver solid performances. Their descent into paranoia and greed affects each of them differently, and it is cool to see that degeneration into something rather ugly.
As the story developed though, that's where I was holding out with some sort of sick hope. The second the trio decide to keep the money for themselves, you know the story won't end well for any of them. The whole tone of the movie speaks to that. But even in that regard, I was disappointed. When things come to a head late, the result is almost comical in its exaggerated depiction. There is a twist in there that works pretty well, but I was so far removed from the movie by that point it probably didn't make the expected impact. Check it out for yourself though at Youtube -- watch it HERE -- and make your own decision.
Shallow Grave <---trailer (1994): * 1/2 /****