Shallow Grave

Originally published at X-Media Online

Danny Boyle’s evolution as a director has accelerated in the last few years so that, much to the dismay of those who cherish the label “alternative”, his vibrant filmmaking fingerprint has been assimilated by the establishment. After the mainstream, Oscar winning success that was Slumdog  Millionaire had eclipsed the mad and edgy Trainspotting, Boyle’s new position in society was confirmed when he was handed control of the opening ceremony for London 2012.

Firing the starting gun for the much anticipated Olympic Games is a huge responsibility, especially in the shadow of the dazzling show put on by the Chinese in Beijing. Many are saying that we simply can’t compete with that spectacle. But Boyle, who has proved himself as an unorthodox winner, will no doubt think otherwise.

The director’s films have often been shocking and are sometimes difficult to watch. Think James Franco cutting his arm off in 127 Hours or Ewan McGregor running amok in Scotland fuelled by Class A drugs. Beneath the hard hitting exterior however he tells stories with an irresistible sense of fun, fuelled by addictive dark humour and inventive visual trickery.

Boyle’s mischievousness and frank brutality are both on show in his 1994 debut, Shallow Grave, which his father apparently still considers his best film. Three yuppies living in an impressive Glaswegian flat laugh the evenings away, taking sadistic pleasure in humiliating those who apply to become their lodger. Eventually they approve of one, who moves in.

Keith Allen’s Hugo is easily the most charismatic character in the film. His lines ooze mysterious hidden depths so that the stuck up doctor of the group, played by Kerry Fox, stops her mocking and starts looking. Unfortunately the plot necessitates Hugo’s swift and sordid death. The gang find the “writer’s” stash of cash next to his naked corpse. After minimal deliberation they resolve to keep it and dump his body in bits in a wood. No one knew about him, no one will miss him.

Of course Hugo’s shady past begins to catch up with our opportunists. Once the body is grimly dealt with cracks appear amongst the friends and Christopher Eccleston’s paranoid accountant retreats to live in the loft with the money. Ewan McGregor’s journalist, who suggested the scheme in the first place, ignores the simmering suspicions in the flat till it’s too late.

In many ways Shallow Grave is the perfect CV for a director. The plotting is tight until it unravels disappointingly at the end, the characters lifelike and the editorial flair evident. Empathy is the one vital missing ingredient letting it down as a narrative. Characters do not all need what Simon Cowell would call “likeability” but we do need to feel at least a little attached to them. The three protagonists are painfully irritating. Because we don’t care about them they become boring, whatever excesses they embrace or however mad they go on greed. Long before the end you’re left wondering, besides the initial fun, what’s the point.

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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