the Thinking Chicks Guide to Movies

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Shallow Grave (1994)

Reviewed on 2006 November 10

I knew only a bare-bones summary of Shallow Grave before watching it — young, well-heeled snots in Scotland come into even more money and hell breaks loose — and I was completely enamored with it from the beginning. Not only is it cheerfully vicious, the fact that none of the main characters are really likable makes it even more of a kick to watch. In almost every other film I've seen irritating characters ruin the effect but this one’s an anomaly. You’re so detached from caring what happens to them that you can enjoy analyzing how it happens. This is rare but it works beautifully here.

Three flatmates want to rent out a spare bedroom in their amazing Edinburgh apartment and interview perspective tenants by humiliating them. This sets the tone of the movie right away; whatever happens to them, you know you won’t waste too much time feeling sorry for them. Of the three, journalist Alex Law (Ewan McGregor) seems the least annoying, but that’s not saying a lot. Juliet Miller (Kerry Fox) is a doctor whose brains make up for her apparent lack of heart, and David Stephens (the always wonderful Christopher Eccleston) is a good-looking slug who works as a chartered accountant. Actually, they’re all pretty good-looking, which coupled with their success makes them feel infallible.

Even bullet-proof yuppie scum can make poor choices though. Rather than pick one of the nice, mundane people they dismiss as too dull to share their digs, they pick Hugo (Keith Allen). Hugo is smooth to the point you know he's hiding something. Juliet decides he’s cool enough, bats her eyes at him and he moves in. At first everybody loves Hugo for staying out of their way. When he does this too well and they eventually realize something’s wrong, they open Hugo’s room and find him dead on his bed with a valise of cash nearby. Instead of alerting any authorities they decide to jettison Hugo’s body and keep the money.

Because Danny Boyle directed this gem, this won’t bode well for them. They’re menaced by thugs, tracked by the police, and ultimately turn on each other like hyenas. The schadenfreude and the dialogue combine to make this very enjoyable, and yet it’s very creepy. These people were nominally friends. You start asking yourself what you would do in such a situation and tell yourself you’d be above all that.

Shallow Grave gets four chocolate morsels and a dram of single malt.


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