Shallow Grave (Danny Boyle, 1994)

“If you can’t trust your friends, well, what then… What then?… Oh, yes. I believe in friends. I believe we need them.”

Introduction

Well … this is a strange film. Stranger than I expected. As mentioned on this weeks podcast, I am a big Danny Boyle fan. Any film of his I shall watch opening weekend – few directors get the same respect from me. Nevertheless, this film I have been holding back on. I have watched all his other films (even the lesser known Strumpet … but not Alien Love Triangle…). So, because this film was the directorial-debut starring Dr Who and a Jedi I thought I’d save it for a special occasion. Interestingly, it was when I swapped a few DVD’s I saw this on Bluray and thought, well, who knows … nows the time to see the film that I have held back from for a long while …

What I reckon… [Nb: I’m getting a bored with ‘what I reckon’ as-the-title tag – any advice on changes?]

The film begins as three flat mates – journalist Alex (McGregor), doctor Juliet (Fox) and accountant David (Eccleston). Alex is incredibly annoying – constantly talking as Juliet, pretty much, keeps him going. Much to the disappointment of David. The film begins with a type-of overview of friendship and what friendship is to these characters. And I wouldn’t be suprised if the writer thought “right, how can I get three best friends want to literally kill each other in a short space of time as an entertaining movie?”. The three flat mates need to interview a bunch of people who could potentially be their flat mate – becoming very nasty in the process. One ginger-lad called Cameron is completely offended as they claim ‘why would we want to live with some like you’?. Its pretty harsh and, as you think they are all smug wankers, the joke is on them. But thats who they are, so you can’t fault the actors playing such roles to a T. So, eventually, Juliet interviews a man separately and, they look like they are hittingit off – especially as she makes clear she is single by telling him to tell her ex-boyfriend on the phone to sod off. This new guy goes into his bedroom, locks the door and – before you know it – he’s dead (in a pose remarkably similar to Henry Wallis’ Chatterton in his 1856 painting The Death of Chatterton). They find his body and are all a little … ‘weirded out’. Not in shock (well, David says “I’ve never seen a dead body before” in stunned awe) really – Alex is rooting through his stuff and Juliet practially covers the naked dead man and then calls the ambo. Then they find a suitcase full of money. In shots that are used again in Millions they are unsure what to do – wanting to keep the money. They dispose of the money, with David pulling the short straw and having to chop up the body. The whole film becomes this horror-movie – with David going more and more mental while Alex spends money and the people who are owed the money begin to close in on the flat.

Its a bit strange because it destroys every ounce of good in each character – but they are a bit annoying anyway – but they become completely destroyed over the film. The first act sets all this up with chopping up the body finishing this section, the ‘centre piece’ is each character getting more a more confused (except Alex who just watches daytime TV and doesn’t really give a shit) – David goes completely insane and begins to become a peeping-Norman Bates character. I reckon Psycho was an influence because, alongside the peeping holes thing, there is a shot which looks just like the Janet Leigh shot after the camera zooms out from the eye in the bathroom, post murder.

The film finishes as they are all content with killing each other/calling the cops and giving each other up. But then again, any murder/chopping up is going to screw you up. I don’t think thats about friendship – more about sanity and state of mind. Even the flat seems quite unique – and a character unto itself. Pastelly colours – stange paintings hung on the walls looking down on them. The red phone. Making the flat seem quite a spacious place – and possibly separating all the characters further. We first them close together on a sofa at the start and, as the film progresses they get further and further away from each other.

The them itself is prevalent in lots of Dany Boyle’s movie. On a purely practial level with whole ‘Bag of money’ theme, we see it again in Millions and, to some extent, it is a bag of money that gives Renton the opportunity to escape in Trainspotting (Also, a weird baby thing is in Shallow Grave too…). Taking the idea further and considering the notion of greed, and wanting something that isn’t actually yours – McGregor tries to rob the business of Cameron Diazs’ father in A Life Less Ordinary while Slumdog Millionnaire has this Millionnaire program at the centre of it – though this is not the motive of the lead character.

To close, unlike Slumdog this is not a love story. It is about how much money is worth – and the cost. In a world of celebrity culture, this shows – back in 1994 – these issues as they began. What people do for money – and how far people go for money? Apparently, in the early days of filmmaking – or any business (think about the beginning story of Facebook), everyone is friends and only when the big bucks start coming in do friendships change. This is interesting, as clearly that entire situation is played out here over the space of a few weeks. An interesting double-bill would be with No Country for Old Men with the one guy, finding a suitcase full of money. I didn’t love the film as much as I thought I would – maybe my expectations was too high, but I can see how – even at this stage – Danny Boyle was a force to be reckoned with. Some interesting shots: the beating at the cashpoint from the perspective of the cash machine and the shots looking up the staircase with the fast-paced road travelling at the start shows a unique, exciting perspective that soon enough inspired many movies to come. Moreso with Trainspotting but still, the signs were there with Shallow Grave.

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2 comments

  1. Haven't seen this one in a while, but hoo boy is it a good'n. Danny Boyle's the effin' man, a sign of great things to come.

    Totally dig the site by the way. Keep on keepin' on, man.

  2. Thanks Aiden! Danny Boyle sure is great – have you seen 'Strumpet' and 'Vaccuuming Completely Naked in Paradise'. They are not as good as the bigger film but are quite interesting. Timothy Spall is fantastic in 'Vaccuuming…'.

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