Sunday, March 15, 2020
Directed by Danny Boyle and written by John Lodge, Shallow Grave is the story of three flat mates who take in a mysterious lodger who dies of an overdose and has a suitcase full of money as things get out of control due to money. The film is a dark comedy that play into three roommates from Edinburgh who deal with this suitcase full of money as well as succumb to the ideas of greed. Starring Christopher Eccleston, Kerry Fox, Ewan McGregor, Ken Stott, Keith Allen, and Peter Mullan. Shallow Grave is a witty yet eerie film from Danny Boyle.
Three flat mates in Edinburgh are looking for a fourth person to live with them as they accept a mysterious man who is later found dead of a drug overdose and a suitcase full of money leading to all sorts of trouble. It’s a film with a simple premise as it play into people who find this suitcase full of money and figure out what to do with it but also with the body of their dead flat mate as it would lead to trouble. John Lodge’s screenplay takes the simple premise of these three different people in the accountant David Stephens (Christopher Eccleston), the physician Juliet Miller (Kerry Fox), and a low-level journalist in Alex Law (Ewan McGregor) as they live together in this flat in Edinburgh as they’re looking for a fourth flat mate to share the rent as a mysterious man named Hugo (Keith Allen) is interviewed by Juliet and gets the room. When they find him dead and his suitcase of money, Alex and Juliet are eager to use that money but David is reluctant knowing that it has to be from somewhere.
Lodge’s script has a great structure that play into the evolution of these three characters who aren’t likeable people but at least do have some value with David becoming troubled by the idea of where the money came from as he becomes more introverted to the point that he would stay in the attic which adds to his increasing paranoia. Alex and Juliet are oblivious as they spend time having fun until reality appears in the form of two mysterious men where the tone of the film changes as it play into this sense of morality, guilt, and greed. Especially in the third act when a couple of detectives start to ask questions with Alex staring to get worried, Juliet becoming secretive, and David starting to take control of the situation as it would lead to this combustible climax.
Danny Boyle’s direction does have elements of style in the film’s opening sequence but also in the atmosphere he creates for much of the film. Shot on location in Glasgow as Edinburgh, the film uses its location as a character including the nearby forest and areas that would play into the secrecy of Alex, Juliet, and David once they get rid of Hugo’s body as it would also add to the film’s dark tone as well as this growing sense of dread that would emerge. Boyle would create some unique wide and medium shots to get a look into the apartment flat the trio share including the attic where David would stay as it would this eerie atmosphere that would match David’s increasingly paranoid mood with shots from above that add to the suspense. Notably as he watches both Alex and Juliet from the attic due to the holes he drilled as it adds to the sense of unsettlement in his behavior. Boyle’s direction also has some unique close-ups in the way he captures some of the humor and some of the dramatic moments in the film. Even as it play into Alex and Juliet’s growing attraction towards one another but also the fear they endure following an encounter with two mysterious men.
Boyle would also create these amazing tracking shots that add to the film’s unique tone that includes a speedy point-of-view shot driving through Edinburgh as well as moments that play into a character at work as they’re driven by an event they went through. Boyle also adds to the air of suspense in its third act as it play into David’s paranoia, Alex’s own frustration and growing fear, and Juliet becoming secretive and silent. Even to the point that they no longer trust each other as its climax is all about this suitcase full of money and three people who started off asking questions and making fun of potential tenants where they enjoy each other suddenly start to not like each other. Overall, Boyle crafts an intoxicating yet visceral film about three flat mates who succumbs to greed after finding a suitcase full of money from their newly-dead tenant.
Cinematographer Brian Tufano does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography as its usage of lighting schemes and shadows for the scenes in the attic as well as some of the stylish moods and colors he creates for scenes at night gives the film one of its major highlights. Editor Masahiro Hirakubo does excellent work with the editing as it has some nice usage of jump-cuts and rhythmic cuts to play into the film’s dark humor and suspense. Production designer Kave Quinn, with set decorator Karen Wakefield and art director Zoe MacLeod, does amazing work with the look of the flat Alex, David, and Juliet stay in as well as the attic and the bedrooms they sleep in.
Costume designer Kate Carin does fantastic work with the costumes as it help flesh out the personalities with Alex having a looser and modern look, David wearing suits and more straight-casual, and Juliet wearing a bit of both. Sound editor Nigel Galt does superb work with the sound as it help play into the suspense and in some of the film’s dark humor to play into the paranoia and chaos that would occur. The film’s music by Simon Boswell is incredible for its eerie yet somber piano-based orchestral score that help play into the drama as well as the suspenseful moments in the film while music supervisor Gemma Dempsey creates a soundtrack that a wide array of music from electronic pieces by Leftfield and a couple of songs from Nina Simone and Andy Williams.
The film’s casting by Sarah Trevis is wonderful as it feature some notable small roles from screenwriter John Lodge as Detective Constable Mitchell who often writes notes, Victoria Nairn and Gary Lewis as a couple of potential flat mates, Jean Marie Coffey as a Goth potential flat mate, and Colin McCredie as a potential flat mate that is interviewed as a source of humiliation by Alex whom he would see again at a party. Leonard O’Malley and Peter Mullan are terrific in their small roles as a couple of thugs who are looking for Hugo and the suitcase full of money as they use brutal tactics to get answers. Keith Allen is superb in his brief role as the mysterious Hugo who becomes a new flat mate while carrying a suitcase and is then found dead from a drug overdose. Ken Stott is fantastic as Detective Inspector McCall as key figure in the film’s third act as he investigates various disappearances where he also begins to believe that something isn’t right with Alex, David, and Juliet in their stories.
Ewan McGregor is excellent as Alex Law as a low-level journalist who spends much of his time not doing much and goofing around as he enjoys the idea of spending lots of money until some violent encounters forces him to see the reality of what is going on as he tries to get out of the situation. Christopher Eccleston is brilliant as David Stephens as an introverted accountant who is the most reluctant to want any involvement with the suitcase of money as he becomes unhinged and paranoid to the point that he would become violent as well take control of the situation. Finally, there’s Kerry Fox in an amazing performance as Juliet Miller as a physician who is often caught in the middle as she is excited by the prospects of spending lots of money but is also filled with dread following a violent encounter where she becomes more secretive and starts to think about herself.
Shallow Grave is a phenomenal film from Danny Boyle that features great performances from Christopher Eccleston, Kerry Fox, and Ewan McGregor. Along with Simon Boswell’s haunting score, Brian Tufano’s gorgeous photography, its study of greed and temptation, and inventive mixture of humor, suspense, and drama. The film is definitely an engaging yet witty dark-comedy that explore the idea of greed and how it changes people to the point that they will lose sight of what is important. In the end, Shallow Grave is a sensational film from Danny Boyle.
Danny Boyle Films: Trainspotting - A Life Less Ordinary - The Beach - 28 Days Later - Millions - Sunshine - Slumdog Millionaire - 127 Hours - Trance - Steve Jobs (2015 film) - T2 Trainspotting - (Yesterday (2019 film))
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