‘Shallow Grave’ is the debut pairing of the creative team that brought the world the amazing ‘Trainspotting’ and ’28 Days Later’. Here we see the emergence of their talents, as well as those of one Ewan McGregor, who would shoot to fame with the film’s aforementioned follow-up, ‘Trainspotting’. From the outset, it’s easy to see that these people had what it takes to be a success in the film world.
The film starts with a Ewan McGregor voice-over, calling to mind the introduction of the later ‘Trainspotting’. We are introduced to the flat-sharing main characters; Alex (McGregor), David (Eccleston) and Juliet (Fox) – characters who tread a fine line between charismatic and despicable. The plot centres on their newly acquired flatmate dying and leaving behind a suitcase full of money, and the lengths our three ‘heroes’ will go to in order to keep the cash. It’s a simple set-up that gradually spirals out of control as more and more variables are introduced to the detriment of the protagonists… it’s very Hitchcockian, but in a dingy suburban way and not too derivative.
The script is concise, but not really all that entertaining. The film’s sinister tone is set by it’s moody score and effective cutting, and despite what I imagine would’ve been quite a low budget it’s actually quite flashy and fast. I can’t help but feel that the film needed to focus more on one of it’s many threads… the source of the money is barely touched on, and certain traits of the main characters could’ve done with more examination. However, it’s kind of understandable that the writer and director would choose to include so much rather than concentrate on less, as the low-action plot benefits from it’s many turns, and the film would’ve gotten quite boring without them.
Ewan McGregor displays the charm and charisma that would later make him a star, and Kerry Fox underplays her role effectively, but for my money it’s Christopher Eccleston who by far does the best job with his character, able to evoke sympathy despite his becoming quite intense and unreachable. All three actors make the film what it is though, as the plot is pretty much solely fuelled by their interactions and decisions. I have to admit I was beginning to lose patience around the end of the film, thinking that it was just about to do a weak bellyflop for an ending, but – amazingly – it’s final moments are really, really good, touching on a thematic richness that improves the film immensely.
It’s not the best film in the world, but it excels with what it’s got. Watch it for some dark character dynamics and a few neat directorial flashes.