"I didn't get into this for nothing so that I could have nothing."
"Yeah, and you didn't saw his feet off."
Danny Boyle lost his way. He gave Britain and the world a wonderful low budget film about friendship giving way to paranoia and betrayal and then after that, he followed it up with his stunning Trainspotting feature. Then he moved to the US, gave us the lackluster A Life Less Ordinary and even worse, The Beach. Both of those came as a real let down after his VERY promising start. Recently Boyle has had a return to form with 28 Days Later but personally I strongly feel that Shallow Grave and Trainspotting are still his best films to date. Perhaps he should have just stayed in the UK?
Back in 1994 I had just about given up on the British film industry and then Shallow Grave caught me by complete surprise. At the time I was working as a cinema usher and I used to love watching the last 5 minutes of this film each night that it played. I can recall someone remarking that this film had quite possibly the most redeeming ending of all time. I agree that the ending is something very special and guaranteed to put a large grin on your face but describing it as "redeeming" hints that there was something wrong with the rest of the film which I certainly would not agree with.
Shallow Grave is about 3 flatmates who are tempted by greed to do something completely out of character. After Hugo (the new tenant) dies from a probable drugs overdose, Alex, David and Juliet decide to keep it a secret and discard of the body themselves so that they can keep a briefcase full of cash that Hugo brought with him. What impresses me so much about Shallow Grave is it's gritty realism in a British film, the performance of the three leads (especially McGregor and Eccleston) and it's often downright chilling nature. And Keith Allen gives a great cameo performance as Hugo!
Trouble is, if you ask a normal person (who drew the short straw) to saw off a dead body's feet and hands and then smash all of the teeth out with a hammer in order to make that body unrecognisable, you just don't know what effect that could have on their persona. In this case, that disturbing experience tips someone way over the edge into the realms of insanity which is the first factor in a perfect murder-less crime going seriously wrong. The second destructive factor is the two violent and murdering gangsters/thugs trying to locate Hugo and his briefcase of cash. And the third destructive factor is pure greed for all of the money, and serious paranoia and mistrust over-riding the bond of friendship.
Shallow Grave is a difficult film to rate in terms of gore levels. Whilst it only just attains a rating of "medium," it's guaranteed to sometimes shock or at least make the viewer seriously wince when the violence is shown, or just implied as when Hugo's feet, hands and teeth are removed before burial. As well as the ending, the sequence where the two violent gangsters meet up with Alex, David and Juliet is another favorite moment of mine. I really love what happens when the gangsters arrive at the flat to take the money!
Despite the sheer nastiness or sometimes very violent nature of Shallow Grave, the film and it's script always retains a very healthy black sense of humour. The scene where David looks around at his accountancy colleagues and realises just how dreary his life is and still will be without becoming involved in the money keeping scheme is an excellent example of this. But Ewan McGregor's slightly obnoxious but still likeable reporter character has most of the great comedy dialogue and moments. As in An American Werewolf In London, it's the contrasting nature of unpleasantness or violence coming straight after or in between comedy segments that makes the film shock.
As with Trainspotting and 28 Days Later (where the music was so well chosen that it was downright outrageous), the soundtrack of the lower budgeted Shallow Grave is still very impressive. It features music from Simon Boswell, Leftfield, Nina Simone and an Andy Williams track which is very wisely utilised at the grin inducing ending.
This region 2 disc offers...ta-da!...a full-screen trailer. Hmmm. Still, better than nothing I suppose. There's an forthcoming (at the time of writing) Trainspotting special edition so perhaps this film will receive the same region 2 treatment at some point in the future. The anamorphic print is rather grainy with some MINOR signs of damage and I've definitely seen a lot worse but it is a shame that we only get 2.0 sound. So there could definitely be a better UK disc than this one but in the meantime, this'll do for me.