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Get Your Good Clean Fresh Nasty Shallow Fun Here,
This review is from: Shallow Grave Special Edition [DVD] (DVD)
"Shallow Grave," a 1994 black comedy-farce, was the feature film debut of young British director Danny Boyle, who was just making his escape from British television. (You can catch his TV work in Inspector Morse - Complete Boxset [DVD], and Hamish MacBeth : Series 1-3 (6 Disc Box Set) [DVD], and it's well-worth the catching, if you can. ) Boyle's first movie is pure "tartan noir," as they call one of the current schools of Scottish mystery-making, tough, funny, macabre. And it couldn't be further removed from what Hollywood routinely serves us.
SHALLOW GRAVE starred several then-unknown actors. Christopher Eccleston, Jude [DVD] , as "David Stephens;" Ewan McGregor, Trainspotting [DVD] , as "Alex Law," and Kerry Fox as "Juliet Miller." In smaller parts it featured; as "Detective Inspector McCall," Ken Stott, who's since made a career playing TV cops, most recently,Rebus : Seasons 3-4 (6 Disc Set) [DVD], and Colin McCredie, whom some may remember from the later series of TAGGART. Robert Carlyle, The Full Monty  [DVD], an actor with whom Boyle had previously worked on HAMISH was offered the starring part of "David," but turned it down.
Boyle was born on October 20, 1956 (same date as Viggo Mortenson), in Manchester, England, son of first generation Irish Catholic immigrants. He began working in theater: he was Artistic Director of the Royal Court from 1982-85, and then Deputy Director from 1985-87. In his film career, since SHALLOW GRAVE, he's gone on to make TRAINSPOTTING, a fairly outrageous druggie film, with Ewan McGregor again, in 1996; and 28 Days Later ... [DVD] a zombie movie like no other, in 2002. And, of course, he got an Oscar for Slumdog Millionaire [DVD]. His work tends to have a light--some might say shallow-- touch, and a taste for the fantastic.
"Shallow" is a fresh take on a hoary idea: that pots of money, no matter how acquired, will break any friendship/companionship/marriage. It's set in Edinburgh, and opens on a sweeping panorama of that city's elegant, historic New Town district. (Only exteriors were filmed in Edinburgh, however, the rest was filmed in Glasgow to take advantage of a 150,000 pound grant from that city's film board.) Three roommates, needing a fourth for financial reasons, are interviewing candidates; they're kind of snarky, but funny if you don't happen to be the interviewee. Their flat is drop dead gorgeous, big and light, full of unexpected color: you'd sure like to be the lucky one chosen. Mysterious Hugo, the man chosen, dies immediately after moving in. They never exactly know why, neither do we; all parties just assume drug overdose, especially after Hugo's found to have a suitcase full of nice crisp 100 pound notes. This sets the plot, in all its gruesome, unpredictable glory, in motion; six people will be dead by movie's end.
We never learn the back stories of the three main characters, nor any of the others, nor why they are acting as they do. And none of the characters are shown to be nice people, worth rooting for. In fact, in my off-the cuff memory, we haven't been presented with three such easy to dislike characters since the late John Huston's masterpiece TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, starring Humphrey Bogart as Fred C. Dobbs, John's father Walter as another of the miners, and ending with a body count about the same as "Shallow Grave's."
In sum, SHALLOW GRAVE is a tight, entertaining, shallow little thriller, with Boyle's trademark touch of the fantastic. It's like nothing you've ever seen before. Your feelings about it will be influenced by your fondness for the unexpected, and your willingness to sit there and let a movie take you where it will.