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SHALLOW GRAVE(director: Danny Boyle; screenwriter: John Hodge; cinematographer: Brian Tufano; editor: Masahiro Hirakubo; music: Simon Boswell; cast: Kerry Fox (Juliet Miller), Christopher Eccleston (David Stephens), Ewan McGregor (Alex Law), Keith Allen (Hugo), Ken Stott (Detective Inspector McCall), Colin McCredie (Cameron), John Hodge (Detective Constable Mitchell); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Andrew Macdonald; MGM; 1994/UK)
“Bristles with excitement.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A creepy thriller that holds up despite several major lapses in storytelling. Danny Boyle’s first feature film as director after years involved with television is well-executed and bristles with excitement, as its confident style over matches in the end its accomplishments. It reminds me of both A Simple Plan and Blood Simple, as it darkly plays as a work of both noir and black comedy. The unrelenting nasty script is by Dr. John Hodge.

Shallow Grave is set in Glasgow (filmed in Glasgow and Edinburgh), where three educated, yuppie-like, sardonic flatmates are interviewing a prospective fourth to live in their roomy flat and share the expenses. They cruelly turn down nice guy but less educated Cameron with a humiliating barrage of wit that shows off their superiority and decide on the mysterious writer Hugo as the flighty Julia Miller (New Zealander KerryFox), the doctor, finds him interesting. The two male roommates, the obnoxious loudmouth and low on the totem pole crime reporter Alex Law (McGregor) and the insular reliable business office accountant David Stephens (Eccleston), reluctantly go along.

The next morning the trio discover Hugo dead in his locked room from a drug overdose and also find a suitcase of money. They argue among themselves whether to report the death and return the money, before their worst instincts take hold. They dispose of Hugo’s body after dismembering his limbs and head to prevent identification and bury him in a shallow grave. They keep the money stashed in their attic.

Greed changes their relationship, and the trio go from being their usual smug selves to having severe psychological personality changes that brings on their hidden violent sides as well as exaggerates their former personality defects. There’s also a few more gruesome murders added on in the unnecessary subplot, as those who knew Hugo was staying with them come for the money. The filmmaker leaves his fingerprints on a morality message about the cold-hearted respectable trio, whose actions become antisocial and unexpected from members of their professional standing. As the plot points change, Boyle concentrates on how their friendship disintegrates because they can no longer trust each other. These sudden character changes were hard to swallow, as well as a number of unbelievable plot developments and the unmotivated gratuitous violence at the end seemed misplaced. Looking back on the story it appears much too thin. But it’s easy to overlook that and how the trio was so unlikable and hard to identify with, because the visual effects were so spellbinding and the breathlessly fast-pace made me forget many of the flaws. It was filmed almost entirely in the flat, and every time a different angle was taken so that the flat always was being rediscovered. I guess the point being to compare the living quarters with the characters we thought we knew, and show how both had secret spots that were hidden from public view.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”