Danny Boyle's first film Shallow Grave is a disturbing and extreme examination of the consequences of one's actions. I love films and at times will see almost anything just for fun but when I see something exceptional I realize how much horrible stuff I waste my time on. Shallow Grave is one such exceptional film and it leaves me wanting to be more discerning.
Tabloid journalist Alex (Ewan McGregor), accountant David (Christopher Eccleston), and doctor Juliet (Kerry Fox) are roommates that have somehow come together as close friends despite their vast differences. The trio are looking for a new boarder and as they interview applicants it is clear that a level of comfortableness has developed between them.
After brashly rejecting many people, they decide on Hugo (Keith Allen), who is selected because he seems interesting. He proves interesting indeed as several days later he is found dead from a drug overdose. Alex starts ransacking Hugo's room looking for a potential story when he discovers a suitcase full of money. After much debate and deliberation, they opt to keep the money and dispose of the body. This decision puts them on a dark path that there is no turning back from. While watching the chain of events that affect Alex, David, and Juliet differently, there are curious cuts of a parallel storyline that eventually comes to a head with the roommates driving them even further into darkness.
One of the best features Criterion offers is new interviews with the three leads. Eighteen years later, the physical changes are dramatic and it sets the tone for a maturity they bring to their analysis of the film and their performances. “Digging Your Own Grave” is a 1993 behind-the-scenes documentary. There is also a video diary from the 1992 Edinburgh Film Festival along with audio commentaries. One is from 2009 with Danny Boyle and the other from 2012 with screenwriter John Hodge and producer Andrew MacDonald. Both commentary tracks bring additional insights and depth to the film. If you are already a fan of the film, they will help you enjoy it even more.
Everything comes together perfectly to make this film such a success. First, are the performances. McGregor plays a despicable character but somehow in a likable way. He finds a perfect balance between being detestable and charming with being able to elicit sympathy from the viewer. Eccleston is superb as the straight-laced introvert whose calm demeanor turns completely deranged. Fox is the tie between the two who uses her feminine advantage to force the inevitable degradation of the friendship.
The film is stylish in appearance with bold colors and at times disturbing images, but it is also slow and methodical in its development. Not everything in the story is clearly explained and it doesn’t need to be, questions are left unanswered which adds to the mystery and drama. I highly recommend this film if you enjoy suspenseful thrillers, but it is not for the faint of heart as there are some troubling and violent images. This is a film that gets better with each viewing; there are nuances and small moments that are not fully appreciated until you know exactly what is to come.