Thursday, June 13, 2013

Shallow Grave now part of Criterion collection

Criterion has released a beautifully restored version of Danny Boyle’s 1993 debut film, Shallow Grave. It is a dark comedy, and so dark sometimes the comedy barely shines through. In 2012 interviews with the lead actors done for the DVD, the movie is described by actor Christopher Eccleston as being about “the corrosive effects of money.”

It is also inspired by the success of the Coen brothers first film, Blood Simple, and while the movies are miles apart in many ways, the audaciousness of the filmmaking sets them both as trendsetters.

David, Alex and Juliet are flatmates in an affluent area of Edinburgh, Scotland. They interview applicants to be their fourth roommate. They are rough on the applicants, unnecessarily cruel and sarcastic, and turn them down one by one. (Before the final title was chosen, at one point it was called Cruel.)

Christopher Eccleston is David, an accountant, Ewan McGregor is Alex, a tabloid journalist, and Juliet, a hospital doctor, is played by Kerry Fox. It was McGregor’s first major movie role.

Enter Hugo, who applies with Juliet and passes one of her tests.

Juliet tells any men in the flat to answer the ringing telephone, and if a man asks for her to tell him she’s not in. Hugo handles that job for her readily. Juliet is something of an enigma, as is the relationship of the core three. None of them are having an affair, but both of the men desire her sexually. In one brief scene, Juliet steps out of the shower, nude, in front of Alex, and he is sort of stunned, but nothing happens.

Hugo is given no time at all in the flat. He locks himself in his room and when he doesn’t answer the men break down his door. They find him dead, apparently of a drug overdose.

The group opens Hugo’s suitcase and find a million pounds in cash. If they report the death the money will come to light, and they decide to keep it. It’s how they go about it that drives the plot from then on.

Sneaking the corpse, wrapped in black plastic, down several flights of stairs is a tricky business. Luckily none of the neighbors sticks a head out of their door to ask why all the noise in the middle of the night. Later in the movie Alex plays drums  loudly  yet no one complains. They either have neighbors who keep to themselves, or the rooms are soundproof.

They take the corpse to a wooded area, and draw straws to see who will go about the grisly business of burying Hugo, and also cutting off his hands and feet and smashing out his teeth. David gets the job, and in a fit of total revulsion, vomits when cutting off body parts.

Unbeknownst to our three friends is that two very bad men are torturing and killing anyone whom they think can lead them to the money. In one scene a guy is drowned under interrogation. Another man ends up locked in a freezer, alive.

The group does not realize someone is looking for the money. Alex and Juliet, in a frivolous mood, spend £500. Angry, David decides to take charge of the money. He moves himself into the loft (attic), and hides it, with himself sitting as guard.

We don’t know how the bad men learn where the money is, but they burst in to the flat, and after banging Alex’s shins with a crowbar he gives up the location of the money, “in the loft.”

The bad guys aren’t told that David is up there. He has heard the commotion. He is prepared.

What we learn is how much the “corrosive effects of money” has affected David, and what he is willing to do to keep it. The friends become pitted against each other.

Director Danny Boyle has distinguished himself in theater, movies (he directed Slumdog Millionaire in 2008, and the cult zombie thriller, 28 Days Later (2002). He was also the artistic director of the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Boyle’s follow-up to Shallow Grave was Trainspotting in 1996, and cemented his reputation as a director to watch.

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