‘If You Can’t Trust Your Friends’ – A review of Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave

Danny Boyle’s Shallow Grave Criterion cover

Good roommates are hard to find. Especially ones that share an equal disdain for humanity and can be easily cajoled into precarious situations. Like for example, dismembering a body and stealing a suitcase full of cash?

Danny Boyle’s early feature film Shallow Grave – set to be rereleased by Criterion on June 12th – will have fans of dark comedy and thriller heist films absorbed in its quick witted script and disturbing tale of spoiled friendship. It is Reality Bites sans heartstrings existing in an insensitive horror world.  David (Christopher Eccleston), Juliet (Kerry Fox) and the fresh faced Ewan McGreggor appearing in his debut leading role as Alex, together form an ensemble cast who exude a disproportionate amount of selfish and immoral behavior. Residing in an enormous Edinburgh New Town Flat, the trio is in search of a fourth roommate who will match their wild temperaments and barbarous whims. A series of harsh and embarrassing interviews with unlikely candidates leads them to the mysterious Hugo, a presumed ‘writer’, who they immediately latch onto, but not for long. There is no spoiler in recounting of Hugo’s unpleasant death, or Alex’s discovery of Hugo’s curiously hidden suitcase full of cash. The film’s question to the unscrupulous trio becomes one of righteousness. Should they return the cash along with the body to the police? Or should they risk the more sinister route of theft, desecration and dishonesty? Their chosen path unleashes a downward spiral of greed and paranoia that piles up the bodies along with their lies.

Shallow Grave is a first glimpse into the confident and energetic style later groomed in Boyle’s smash hit Trainspotting, yet it remains to be the polar opposite of his delightfully touching Slumdog Millionaire. Here, we are dealing with relentless cruelty, where the most disturbing element is our lack of knowledge around motivation. The amount of money left in Hugo’s suitcase is never discussed, making it even more difficult to comprehend the ease in their immoral behavior; these are after all average people. Yet their savagery would more aptly be suited to perpetrators surviving in the underbelly of crime. What Shallow Grave spares us in blood and guts, is plentiful in psychological thrills, specifically concerning David who rises to the role of puppeteer in his effort to control the impending fate their senseless crime.

The three slowly divide from inseparable threesome transcending into individual survival mode until the unforeseen end where trust among friends is no where to be found.

Christina Stimpson

April 19, 2012 / By

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