After six years of directing television, Danny Boyle directed his first feature, Shallow Grave (1994), a thriller of three flatmates who find themselves with a suitcase full of cash and a dead body. I’ve gotten a number of Criterion Collection films on Blu-Ray, but this is the first one that I’ve gotten to. It was a bit of a gamble. It’s Boyle’s first feature and writer John Hodge’s first writing credit and has a quiet critical approval that surfaced when Trance (2013), a very similar movie, was coming out. Then there’s the fact that Criterion sometimes values cult over classic. Well, it turned out to be enjoyable and that’s what I’ll try to convey.
Alex (Ewan McGregor), Juliet (Kerry Fox), and David (Christopher Eccleston) live an enormous, beautiful apartment in Scotland and are looking for a flatmate to take the fourth room. After they interview a few applicants with extreme comic cruelty, Juliet finally finds Hugo (Keith Allen) as a fitting candidate. Oddly, they never see him. Finally, they kick in the door to find Hugo on the bed, stone dead. It’s not clear how he’s died, but they find drugs and that’s a decent guess but it could have been suicide. Just as Juliet calls the police, Alex finds a suitcase filled with money. What to do? That’s a lot of money. So they dig a grave.
From the very start, I immediately feel good about this one. The pounding techno with the frantic speed after a brief Trainspotting-like introduction dispels any fear I had of the movie looking cheap or the story being amatuerly “interesting”. Instead, a comedy turns to crime turns to psycho thriller. Then again, it never really stops being a comedy of curiosity. The three main characters are charming in their own way and engaging, but there’s always something off about them. They decide to bury a dead man over a bag full of cash, so obviously something’s off about them. What’s most interesting is that what is edgy and different in 1994 is quite mainstream to my perspective. It’s still different and interesting, it just doesn’t shock in the way I expect that it did to viewers in the 90’s. Instead, it just entertains.
Hey it’s Ken Stott, my favorite!
The look of it is very dynamic (cinematography by Brian Tufano). There’s a lot of movement, but it’s mostly smooth and rather stylized. It is stylized, but not over-stylized. There’s a lot of meaningful color for those that like that sort of thing. I don’t really enjoy it, but I found it noticeable but inessential. On Blu-Ray, it looks crisp and probably better than it ever did on film. The music was a little conflicted, though. The heavy techno (and pace it reflects) doesn’t carry through the film and gets replaced by some rather pedestrian low evil music which easily falls out of my notice. More than anything, though, the plot and acting carried the day. The technical side did no harm and only improved the film—all except a little cheap horror movie moment when someone gets stabbed in the shoulder.
Because it’s a Blu-Ray and Criterion, it’s loaded with goodies. The interviews are very interesting from the three main actors that highlights Boyle’s directing style and their own early acting experience. There’s also a fun video diary from the writers in 1992 about them interviewing people at the Edinburgh Film Festival—pretty funny. Kevin MacDonald follows this up with a video about the production of the film itself. It’s very invasive and shows far more truthful moments than you’re used to in these featurettes. Very interesting.