McGregor and Eccleston are Out Foxed
Whilst Danny Boyle may have scaled the heights of movie making with the likes of "127 Hours" and "Slumdog Millionaire" it is Boyle's first major movie "Shallow Grave" which remains one of my favourites. In "Shallow Grave" he manages to give us a touch of film noir, plus the suspense of Hitchcock and then a touch of Tarantino as we find ourselves laughing at the gruesome. It's a quirky, dark even disturbing movie full of style and dialogue which draws us in to not the perfect murder, but what follows as we watch 3 friends live with the results of their actions.
"Shallow Grave" takes not so much a little while to get started but to get into the meat of the storyline. The first few scenes set up the friendship of the three friends sharing an apartment in Glasgow where they are interviewing various people for the spare room. It's intentionally quirky, with a bizarre sense of visualization as we watch Alex, played by Ewan McGregor, cycling around the apartment as he and his friends bombard respective tenants with a series of comically strange questions. It certainly has the desired effect of firstly making you sit up and watch but also laugh.
But interviews done with and new tenant picked, Hugo, things move on quite briskly as they discover not only their new roommate dead but also a suitcase stuffed with money, which leads them to dismember Hugo, bury him in the woods and share the money, not questioning where it had come from. What follows is basically how their nefarious act affects them and their friendship as events lead them to be pushed to the limits. It's surprisingly simple but wonderfully written, feeling more like a stage play adapted to the big screen with so much of the story happening within the confines of their apartment.
One of the first things which hits you is that there is a gruesome side to "Shallow Grave", you may not see visually the body of Hugo being hacked to bits and smashed with a hammer, but you see the actions taking place. As such it allows your imagination to run riot, as you here the rhythm of the saw as David slices through a limb. You visualise in your mind the cut, the blow of the hammer against the skull and as such it's disturbing. But at the same time the gruesomeness of it is also at times humorous; the way Alex enthusiastically picks the tools for the job is just darkly amusing. It makes you feel wrong to be laughing at such a dark deed but you can't help yourself.
The darkly comedy continues throughout thanks to some brilliant writing. Each of the three main characters Alex, David and Juliet all get some wonderful dialogue, intentionally witty yet serious at the same time. When Alex just flows with his insane commentary on things it's not so much mesmerising but interesting, it makes you listen, it makes you laugh, and it makes the movie so good.
And to make "Shallow Grave" all the more special is that it is layered in style. The actual apartment, with its spiralling staircase, high ceilings, and contrasting black and white colour scheme really is a brilliant location. But you get Boyle's sort of homage's to cinematic heroes. There is a love shot staring down from the top of the spiral staircase immediately reminding me of Hitchcock and that is just one of many, some which to mention would spoil some surprises.
All of which makes "Shallow Grave" a well made movie which is actually made all the better by three top performances from three young actors Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston and Ewan McGregor who at the time were not the well known stars which they became. It would be wrong to single one out as whilst Fox seems a bit plain as Juliet she is equally devious, Eccleston is brilliant as the highly strung David and McGregor is a ball of boundless energy. What makes their three performances so good is that we watch their characters change, grow and diminish in line with the storyline.
As for the other actors and actresses well Keith Allen as Hugo understandably doesn't have much screen time, but it's probably most notable for him laying their bollock naked as a corpse. And Ken Stott who is amusingly blunt as Detective Inspector McCall who finds himself questioning the trio of friends over a different crime.
What this all boils down to is that "Shallow Grave" is still after 15 years a brilliant movie. It manages to mix so many different styles without it feeling wrong and whilst it most certainly has a gruesome side you just can't help but laugh and cringe in equal measures.