Shallow Grave (1994)

2015 #105
Danny Boyle | 89 mins | TV | 16:9 | UK / English | 18 / R

The debut feature of director Danny Boyle was hailed on release for being a British film that wasn’t another period-piece literary adaptation. Instead, it concerns three ultra-chummy flatmates in contemporary Edinburgh (Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, Kerry Fox) who take in a fourth lodger, who promptly dies, leaving behind an insane amount of cash. Rather than report it, they dispose of the corpse and keep the cash. You don’t get much further from Merchant-Ivory than that.

Naturally, things don’t go swimmingly. The trio’s subsequent behaviour begins to cause ruptures among them; there are some Nasty Men looking for the cash; and when the remains are discovered the police get involved. It’s kind of a dark thriller, as it sounds, but also funny — the kind of film the ’90s specialised in, in some respects (think Fight Club, say). It’s also morally and emotionally complex, however. The flatmates aren’t the villains, they’re ‘us’, tempted to extremes by unusual circumstances. Consequently, it has that great discussion-generating feature of many a zeitgeist-y ‘watercooler’ film: what would you do?

Of course, it’s testament to the film’s quality — Boyle’s kinetic direction, the accomplished performances, the entertaining screenplay — that Shallow Grave endures past that initial ponderance to remain one of the Oscar-winning auteur’s best films.

5 out of 5

4 thoughts on “Shallow Grave (1994)

  1. I love this one and of course Boyle – and I suppose McGregor also – just went from strength to strength. It just felt so wonderfully assured, with its cool Leftfield beats and not especially likeable yet fun flat mates, building up to the film’s central dilemma. Hardly a moment is wasted, every shot seems to be adding crucial notes to the characterisation or advancing the plot.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It seems particularly confident for a first film, doesn’t it?

      The early scenes, where they’re interviewing potential flatmates, are an interesting way to begin. As you say, they come across as not very likeable, which is an interesting way to set things up. Unless it’s meant to place you in cahoots with them, I suppose, though it didn’t work like that for me; but it doesn’t need to, which, again, is probably testament to how well made it is.

      Liked by 1 person

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