Home Video Hovel- Shallow Grave, by David Bax
When revisiting the first feature from a director you like, there are a couple of questions that come to mind. First off, does the work hold up? And second, are the themes and auterist signatures which with the filmmaker is identified present from this early stage?
Shallow Grave is Danny Boyle’s first feature film and it has recently been released on Blu-ray and DVD from The Criterion Collection. The story concerns three Edinburgh flatmates named David (Christopher Eccleston), Juliet (Kerry Fox) and Alex (Ewan McGregor). They take on a fourth member of their household, Hugo (Keith Allen) only to find him dead of an overdose days later in his room with a suitcase full of money under the bed. Being the contemporary noir anti-heroes that they are, they decide to dispose of the body in a grisly manner that will help evade identification and keep the money for themselves. Of course, everything goes really wrong really quickly.
Fortunately, the movie does hold up, for the most part. There’s a pretty masterful building of tension on display here and the film is funny in a clever, biting way. Boyle, cameraman Brian Tufano and production designer Kave Quinn make the most of the flat where the majority of the action takes place. Bold primary colors make the rooms look distinctive and bigger than they are. And Tufano’s camera, as in all his work, seems simultaneously untethered and highly in control, floating around the space one minute and pushing dramatically in on a face the next.
To the question of whether or not Shallow Grave is representative of Boyle’s work to come, the answer is yes, in ways both good and bad.
The most adhesive complaint about Danny Boyle is that he leaps at any opportunity to be arch. The opening narration set to music by Leftfield as the camera careens through the streets of Edinburgh (actually Glasgow) is ostentatious and a later shot is superfluously framed from the point of view of an ATM. The young McGregor is also a bit too fervent in his winking callowness.
What fans of Boyle know, though, is that his archness, while powerful, never takes over from his characters and their story. It’s okay that McGregor (and, to a lesser extent, Fox) aren’t at their best because, really, this is David’s story and Eccleston plays him wonderfully. He goes through the most dynamic changes of the three characters but what’s fascinating is how little we are actually allowed to truly grasp about what’s going on in his mind. His reaction to the situation is due to the fact that the other two have placed most of their own guilt and paranoia upon him and so we generally understand David through the eyes of Juliet and Alex.
Criterion’s Blu-ray is up to their usual standards (though the tendency of good Blu-rays to have crisp but quiet dialogue scenes mixed with very loud music cues makes this a hard one to watch while your girlfriend is asleep in the other room). Features include commentaries by the filmmakers, interviews with the cast, a making-of documentary and a video diary from the 1992 Edinburgh Film Festival.