The timeworn concept of normal folks finding a suitcase full of money
is given a wicked dose of mid-nineties cynicism in this memorably
twisted British import, the directorial debut of Danny Boyle.
Itís no accident this 1994 film, co-starring a debuting
Ewan McGregor, came from the same year as PULP FICTION (it was actually
touted in the US as ďthe nextĒ PULP). Its gory violence, pitch-dark
comedy and overpowering sense of hip fatalism are very much in line with
the former film. For that matter, SHALLOW GRAVE fits in nicely with such
nineties-era nasties as MAN BITES DOG,
NATURAL BORN KILLERS, FREEWAY and
TRAINSPOTTING, the follow-up film by Danny Boyle.
SHALLOW GRAVE and TRAINSPOTTING were both quite
successful on the independent film circuit, leading to further successes
from the eclectic Boyle (28 DAYS LATER, SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE) and also
some failures (A LIFE LESS ORDINARY, THE BEACH).
Juliet, David and Alex share a London flat. The three
are quite different in temperament, but share one attribute: theyíre all
obnoxious snobs. Looking for a fourth flat mate, they settle on a shady
man, actually a dangerous gangster, who promptly ODís on something and
dies--and leaves behind a suitcase full of (stolen) money!
J, D & A arenít especially put out by this development,
but rather quite excited by the possibility of spending the dead manís
fortune. David ends up with the gruesome job of dismembering and
disposing of the cadaver, which changes him irrevocably. Over the
following days David grows increasingly withdrawn and obsessive, taking
to hanging out in the flatís loft and hoarding the stolen money. He
snaps entirely upon coming face-to-face with two of the dead manís
underworld pals: David makes fast work of both men, and doesnít waste
any time disposing of their remains.
The problem is the hole in which David buries the
bodies is too shallow, and itís interred by authorities. This only
inflames Davidís madness, furthering the rift between him and his
roommates, and leading to an inevitable three-way fight to the death.
SHALLOW GRAVEíS fast cutting and energetic camerawork
are Danny Boyle trademarks, and used here to powerful effect. The
annoying techno score dates the film, as does the quintessentially
nineties atmosphere of cynical apathy (more than one critic has likened
the title to the filmís overall worth).
Literally all the characters are jerks, none more so
than the three stuck-up protagonists--although the acting by the three
leads is quite good (particularly the underrated Kerry Fox as the
quietly crafty Juliet). The dearth of likeable characters is a 1990s
cinema trademark (remember, it was the ďWhateverĒ decade) and renders
SHALLOW GRAVE a definite product of its time.
So with no sympathetic characters of any sort itís up
to Boyleís high-spirited direction and John Hodgeís furiously inventive
script to move things along. Surprisingly, the approach works, as Boyle
and Hodge worked overtime to craft a witty and horrific rollercoaster of
a film with some macabre surprises. Dated SHALLOW GRAVE may be, but itís
also suspenseful and exciting.
Film Four International
Director: Danny Boyle
Producer: Andrew MacDonald
Screenplay: John Hodge
Cinematography: Brian Tufano
Editing: Masahiro Hirakubo
Cast: Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston, Ewan McGregor, Ken Stott, Keith
Allen, Colin McCredie, Victoria Nairn