Every great director needs to start somewhere, even Danny Boyle. Believe it or not, he wasn’t just always around making movies that make us all go crazy. Danny Boyle has created a lot of masterful pieces of work, and the movie to put him on the map was his 1994 debut Shallow Grave. Now considered to be “a ’90s classic,” I found this movie to be good and entertaining, but I can’t say it was really anything special. For a debut feature film it still is impressive, but plays it way too safe, and Danny Boyle certainly isn’t a director who’s afraid to take chances.
Alex (Ewan McGregor), Juliet (Kerry Fox), and David (Christopher Eccleston) are three flatmates and very good friends who are in the process of finding a fourth person to share the place with. They find their man with Hugo (Keith Allen), who ends up dying a few days later of an apparent suicide. Before the police can be called, Alex finds a huge suitcase full of money and convinces the group to use this to their advantage. After disposing of the body, paranoia strikes. Soon, the group of close knit friends can’t even trust each other, and with the police catching their scent and two thugs on a killing spree, their limits are tested and violence soon erupts.
Being Boyle’s first feature film, this is a very interesting watch. It’s also the first film for screenwriter John Hodge, producer Andrew Macdonald, and it’s also the first major role for Ewan McGregor. Boyle and the rest of these names would later collaborate again in 1996 on Trainspotting, which I personally believe is Boyle’s masterpiece. Shallow Grave is nowhere near the same level as Trainspotting, but I can appreciate the sort of Hitchcockian/Coen Brothers kind of feel that the characters and the entire plot has.
I really did also enjoy the performances in Shallow Grave. Christopher Eccleston has a really cool part in this movie, and has to pretty much play two different characters over the course of the movie. Ewan McGregor, on the other hand, only has to play one role but it seems like he’s having a helluva time with it. He almost literally bursts with energy in every scene he’s in, and I could really tell he was just having a really good time with the character. The dialogue is especially important in this movie as each of the tenants each have their own distinct personalities, and the writing really helps in differentiating them, personality wise.
What didn’t really work for me is how safe the screenplay plays it, the lack of style that the movie has as it goes on, and the horrendous soundtrack. Let’s look at these one by one. The screenplay doesn’t really dare going places thrillers like this don’t normally go. I feel like I’ve seen this before, and the only thing that keeps this movie at all interesting are the characters and how they change over the course of the plot. The style and the soundtrack kind of go hand in hand. They both start out awesome with kinetic editing and fast paced techno scoring, but both of these disappear. The style becomes pretty average and the soundtrack, with its overdramatic piano chords, is just horrible.
Shallow Grave is a serviceable thriller that doesn’t really lead to anything special. It’s interesting to see because it’s the start of a lot of people’s careers, but it isn’t a movie that you’re bound to remember because of the content. This hearkens back to the days of Hitchcock, but it doesn’t reach the levels that Hitchcock or the Coen Brothers set. Danny Boyle would go on to become one of the most intimidating forces in the film world, but Shallow Grave is only worth watching if you’re interested in seeing the beginnings of people who are now highly successful.