Danny Boyle’s dynamic first feature is a psychological thriller that is fun, morbid, and keeps you on your toes.
Dir. Danny Boyle
1994 | UK | Crime/Thriller | 93 mins | 1.85:1 | English
M18 (passed clean) for scenes of strong grisly violence, and for some language and nudity
Cast: Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston, Ewan McGregor
Plot: Three friends discover their new flatmate dead but loaded with cash.
Awards: Won Best British Film (BAFTA)
Distributor: Film4 (Park Circus)
Subject Matter: Dark
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
(Reviewed at Perspectives Film Festival – first published on 4 Oct 2013)
You and two close friends open the door to find a dead body lying on the bed, and a suitcase filled with sparkling cash. It is not the most tantalizing scenario to be in – I mean, really, what would you do? But that is the high-concept premise of this ingenious crime-thriller that is crafty, unpredictable, and nihilistically enjoyable.
What fun to watch a morbid dark comedy that is also a drama of characters. Of characters dealing with moral and ethical dilemmas that would change the course of their lives and their very conception of their own beings. What fun to also see Danny Boyle make an exciting entrance to British cinema with Shallow Grave, his debut feature that all things considered, still remains to be one of his best works.
Shallow Grave is big on style, a neo-British cinema of sorts that is dynamically shot and edited to pulsating music. The opening sequence sets the tone brilliantly, and thinking in retrospect, it is the kind of sequence that Boyle has mastered for the longest of time, most obvious in films like Slumdog Millionaire (2008) and 127 Hours (2010).
“I’m not frightened. I’m a little terrified, maybe.”
The energy and kineticism is obvious from the get-go, and it is hard not to be engaged by the craft of the filmmaking. Although the pacing slows as the film progresses, Shallow Grave ups the level of suspense (and occasionally psychological horror) as the trio of characters played by Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston and Kerry Fox find out that their actions lead to consequences.
The consequences are grim, but I shall not say more. Boyle’s film is full of twists and turns – some you see coming, while others hit you in the face like a brick wall. Shallow Grave is a dark film, but it is deliciously dark rather than disturbingly dark; it is best enjoyed by letting yourself into its twisted narrative.
Boyle, whose next feature Trainspotting (1996) would take him to even greater heights, delivers an explosive debut that reminds me of Joel and Ethan Coen’s Blood Simple (1984), also a visually and thematically dark film that had critics raving. Taken together, Shallow Grave and Blood Simple represented new dawns of independent filmmaking in the UK and US respectively from two (or more accurately, three) distinctive filmmakers who with their first features decidedly became auteurs bursting with talent and confidence.