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Shallow Grave (Criterion) (1994)

Cast: Kerry Fox, Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston, more...
Director: Danny Boyle, Danny Boyle
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Studio: Criterion Collection
Genre: Foreign, UK, Criterion Collection
Running Time: 94 min.
Languages: English, French
Subtitles: Spanish, French

The diabolical thriller Shallow Grave was the first film from director Danny Boyle, producer Andrew Macdonald, and screenwriter John Hodge (the smashing team behind Trainspotting). In it, three self-involved Edinburgh roommatesplayed by Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston, and Ewan McGregor, in his first starring roletake in a brooding boarder, and when he dies of an overdose, leaving a suitcase full of money, the trio embark on a series of very bad decisions, with extraordinarily grim consequences for all. Macabre but with a streak of offbeat humor, this stylistically influential tale of guilt and derangement is a full-throttle bit of Hitchcockian nastiness.

GreenCine Member Reviews

Modern Day Noir at its Best by viciouscircle March 12, 2005 - 11:52 PM PST
4 out of 5 members found this review helpful

I cannot believe that no one has reviewed this film, to my mind it is Boyle's best and one of the better dark movies in recent memory. An interesting thing occurred as I was reflecting on the film and what I could say about it that would spur someone to watch it. I realized that I could not even determine the appropriate genre of the film - is this horror, a thriller, a drama, a black comedy?

Shallow Grave is all those things, but more than anything else - this is pure Film Noir. The characteristic feature of noir films is the theme of violation - of laws, personal boundaries, mores, and psyches. Though certain devices have typified classic noir (narration, flashbacks, lighting) the core of a noir film is the investigation of human interaction in extreme violations of social norms.

In this respect, we are clued into Shallow Grave's noir aspirations at the outset. The main characters are seeking a fourth roommate for their flat, and in a hilarious scene they repeatedly skewer their applicants with wit and discomforting questions - clearly crossing the boundaries of politeness and good taste. We are instantly notified that our characters are, for lack of a better word, villains. There is no hero to root for here.

The plot centers around the death of the (finally selected) fourth roommate who happens to possess a suitcase full of cash. The roommates decide to keep the money, the defining criminal act of the film, and from here on out - things spin out of control in typical noir fashion. Boyle's genius with the film is how he expertly redirects the focus from the external concerns of the characters (i.e. not getting caught, disposing of the body, etc.) to the internal psyche's of the characters and their personal interaction. There is betrayal, voyeurism, and mental and physical violence of every kind until we reach the end.

I don't believe the movie is about 'what would you do' in the given circumstance. Noir films rarely make such moral challenges. Rather, it is a more visceral experience, a movie that captures you as you actually want to bear witness to exactly how hellish things can get. In this regard, noir films tend to bring out our own darkness to a degree - as gluttonous consumers of carnage and violence. Those who dislike films without redemption should look elsewhere.

Boyle is now widely regarded for his style, but nowhere is it more effective than in Shallow Grave. The apartment is hip yet austere, cold yet vibrant, a home and yet prison. The lighting and use of colour is wonderful - I am continually blown away at each viewing. Similarly, the dialogue is sharp, witty, and electric and the performances do the excellent writing justice.

I highly recommend this movie to fans of noir, as well as to those of dark cinema. I also think that fans of work similar to Kubrick and Jean-Pierre Jeunet will find a lot to like.

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 7.08)
179 Votes
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The Neo-Hitchcockian Thriller
The film you're watching might be Hitchcockian if: the story is told in some ingenious way; there's a healthy bit of obsession, paranoia, and/or voyeurism; or the ending knocks you out of your seat.

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