Saturday, July 5, 2014

Shallow Grave (The Criterion Collection) (1994)

Shallow GraveDanny Boyle has given us movie fans some amazing films in a variety of genres(Trainspotting, 28 Days Later. His first movie, Shallow Grave, is one of the best directorial debuts ever. A solid, gritty thriller centered around three flatmates and their descent into greed and subsequent savagery.

Shallow Grave is invariably one of the top 10 mystery/thrillers I recommend to newbies of the genre. The large cult following for this film is most definitely warranted, mainly because it doesn't fall victim to studio executive induced foolishness or its bastard requisite happy ending. This is good film making with taut direction derived from an excellent script.

The entire crux of the film is the question: "When confronted with a large sum of money can friendship survive?" Obviously the answer is a resounding "no". Boyle drops his audience into a frightening and exhilirating situation, makes us care for his characters, and then ruthlessly pummels them with brutal circumstance. We can see a little bit of ourselves in all three main characters which definitely increases our empathy and revulsion at the betrayal and bloodshed.

Shallow Grave is a haunting depiction of paranoia, deceit, murder, and madness that gets better with each viewing.

P.S. Danny Boyle revisits similar ground with his new release "Millions", albeit in a more wholesome, family friendly format.

This little Scottish gem is worth watching more than once! I'll not bother recanting what it's about, you can read that above. This is a delightful example of how greed and peer pressure can twist and stain the human soul with ugliness. Most of the movie takes place in the three roommates' flat in Scotland so it has a real claustrophobic feel to it. The plot is simple, watch the three characters crumble as they're affected by their decision to keep the money and dispose of the body. Strongest scene: when David comments about the dinner after having to hack up the dead body "It tastes different." Possibly meaning both the dinner and everything else about his life. This film has a nice ending, not a phoney one just to keep everyone happy. Technically, the digital transfer is mediocre. The sound is quite low. I have to turn my TV up pretty high to hear it, but this could be due to poor production on the set. There are no extras included on this DVD.

Buy Shallow Grave (The Criterion Collection) (1994) Now

Although there is no room on the name plate at the front door to their flat, Juliet Miller (Kerry Fox), David Stephens (Christopher Eccleston), and Alex Law (Ewan McGregor) are interviewing for a fourth, to rent out the red bedroom. However, their way of interrogating prospective flat mates makes it seem that they will never find a fourth wheel. Alex, the reporter, asks most of the insulting questions, the nicest of which is probably asking "When was the last time you heard these exact words: 'You are the sunshine of my life'?" But Juliet, the doctor, asks things like, "This affair you're not having, is it not with a man, or not with a woman?" while David, the accountant, likes to inquire, "How would you react, then, if I told you I was the Antichrist?" There is no way that anybody is going to get a passing grade from all three of this trio.

In fact, Hugo (Keith Allen) talks to only Juliet before he makes it to a dinner with the boys, where Alex wants to know if Hugo can pay for the flat (a large wad of bills suggests that he can) and David just wants to know if Hugo has ever killed a man (Hugo lies on this point). These answers are sufficient for him to move in, although Hugo is clearly a bit older than they are and is not as amused by the trio's wit as they are. However, the next morning Hugo is lying naked and dead in the red bed, the victim of an overdose. Alex immediately starts checking out everything that Hugo left behind, apparently never thinking that the police might want to take a look at things first. Just as Juliet is about to report the corpse, Alex finds the proverbial suitcase filled with cash. Immediately, Juliet and the boys are reviewing the situation.

The key to keeping the money becomes eliminating Hugo's body and the title of the film gives you an indication of how the trio plan to accomplish that particular task, although Alex knows enough about how bodies are identified to suggest a few surgical procedures to go along with the burial. This requires the purchasing of necessary supplies, a trip into the forest, the drawing of a short straw, and then returning to the flat to endure the questions of Detective Inspector McCall (Ken Stott), who seems to think there should be four people living there. However, the trio have another problem, in that all that cash apparently did not really belong to Hugo either, and there are a couple of blokes looking for it, and therefore, for them as well.

The three flat mates are eccentric enough for us to be entertained by the way they treat most of the other human beings that they come into contact with, but when Alex makes a point of going to far with his treatment of poor Cameron (Colin McGredie), one of the failed applicants from the film's opening sequence, and Cameron offers a pointed rejoinder with the toe of his boot, we readily admit Alex deserves it. This becomes an important part of the dynamic for "Shallow Grave," because while we certainly expect the bad guys to get their hands on the three flat mates before the police can put everything together, we do not expect the sharp turn the film takes at that point.

These characters are entertaining, but they are not sympathetic, so in watching how this one plays out we do not really have a rooting interest in which, if any of them, get out of this film alive. Although I know it came out four years later, "A Simple Plan" tells a similar story but with much more sympathetic characters. The question is the same: if a whole lot of money fell into your lap, how far would you go to keep it? Of course such narratives beg the question as to whether you should or not, because the drama, and the attendant horror, comes from how far people will go.

The other thing that "Shallow Grave" reminds me about is the bit from one of Bill Cosby's routine where he is talking about people doing cocaine. Cosby explains that people have told him that cocaine enhances things so that you become more of what you were and his rejoinder is, "But what is you are an a**hole?" That question is a totally legitimate one to ask with regards to this story line because these are not good people, and when they are put in a bad situation that becomes increasingly worse, it is not like there are any angels representing their better natures. This one gets pretty bad and if you want another cinematic reference tossed at you then think of the three way gun fight at the end of "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly."

Just do not be distracted by the sarcastic wit of the principles into thinking that they are good people or that this is a comedy. The "funny" stuff is all relative and just because you laugh at what people say is no reason to make the leap to thinking they are good people. Besides, the director is Danny Boyle, known for both "Trainspotting" and "28 Days Later," so you knew this 1994 was not going to be morally uplifting. This is just another example nice little example of bad people doing bad things to each other.

Read Best Reviews of Shallow Grave (The Criterion Collection) (1994) Here

Why is it that I watch and enjoy so many films in which Ewan McGregor appears? After finishing the substantive part of my day one evening last week, I flipped over to IFC and found `Shallow Grave' (1994) just starting. I stuck with it, and was not disappointed.

A movie fan has to love the risks that the independent filmmakers take. Danny Boyle, the same director of `Trainspotting,' did a very nice job with three rather unknown actors at the time at least in the U.S., Kerry Fox (Juliet), Christopher Eccleston (David), and McGregor (Alex), a quirky and unusual script, a little contemporary film noir, and created an enjoyable little story. Nice work, Danny Boyle.

In synopsis, Juliet, David, and Alex live in a nice four bedroom flat and are conducting a roommate search to pay a fourth of the rent. During a dinner/interview with a prospective tenant, Hugo, played by Keith Allen, the three are impressed, perhaps excessively so, when the potential flat mate brandishes nice wad of pound notes. Very shortly after Hugo moves in, he is not to be seen. Inquisitive Alex (he's a newspaper reporter) leads the charge to break into his room only to find Hugo naked and dead. Then, Alex continues to snoop and finds a substantial cache of money in a suitcase under the bed.

In short, after some very shallow soul-searching, the trio decided to keep the money rather than to report Hugo's death to the authorities. As such, Juliet, David, and Alex David must dispose of the body, Hugo's car, and anything else that could possibly associate the deceased flat mate with the three friends. The disposal proves to be quite a grisly affair, but that is not the least of the trio's problems. Paralleling their own struggles in disposing of Hugo, Boyle introduces us to two very bad men who are also looking for the money. The audience does not know and does not necessarily need to know who these very bad men are, just that they are very bad men and are getting closer and closer to Juliet, David, and Alex.

Ironies abound in `Shallow Grave,' but one of the most fun of those ironies occurs at the point when bodies, yes, bodies are found in a shallow grave, and Alex is assigned by his editor at the newspaper to cover the story. Alex's front-page headline is then succeeded by an intense climax as the three "friends," each apparently on the verge or over the precipice of insanity caused by greed, face each other early one morning and then a surprise ending that includes Alex gruesomely fastened to the floor of the flat.

In a moderate budget, independent film, actors, directors, and producers tend to take more creative risks. As such, I do not believe a Hollywood studio would have ever produced `Shallow Grave'. And, if it had, Hollywood would have turned it into a watered down version of its original intention, comparable to the difference between the independent `Requiem for a Dream' and the Hollywood `Traffic.' Good for lovers of good film.

Want Shallow Grave (The Criterion Collection) (1994) Discount?

First of all, let's just tell the review readers that the low ratings are obviously few and far between for a reason. Take stock in the fact that the majority of ratings are 5 stars.

I own this film on good old VHS tape. Long before Ewan McGregor was a household name. So please, throw away any idea that he makes or breaks this film. It's stunning. The story sucks you in and you are there, alone with just you and your television. It will be easy to block out the outside world and become mesmerized. And horrified and shocked and aghast and bewildered.

I promise this film is amazing. Be careful of reading too many reviews as they'll stupidly give away too much of the film.

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