Shallow Grave

Don't look for the gentle touch in this Scottish thriller, a savagely dark comedy of ill manners that revels in death and dismemberment. Juliet (Kerry Fox), a doctor, Alex (Ewan McGregor), a journalist, and David (Christopher Eccleston), an accountant, are looking for another roommate to share their flat. Being snobs, they cruelly reject a dozen contenders. Enter Hugo (Keith Allen), an ideal Mr. Cool except that he overdoses in his room, leaving a fierce stink and a suitcase full of stolen drug money. What to do? This bunch decides to keep the loot, which entails stashing the cash in the attic, chopping up Hugo's body and burying the pieces in the woods.

There is a dash of Hitchcock suspense, Coen-brothers style and Joe Orton wit in the stew. Director Danny Boyle, in a striking debut, stirs the pot with astonishing assurance. The script is by John Hodge, a doctor who always wanted to write a movie. Hodge does so well he may, God forbid, inspire others the way that John Grisham started a literary rush on lawyers.

Hodge is preaching an old message: Greed kills. But he works wildly funny variations that Boyle keeps in constant spin. The actors have a wicked ball showing their characters turn rabid. Everyone wants that money and will screw each other – literally and figuratively – to get it. Fox, so fine in Jane Campion's Angel at My Table, executes a malevolent and sexy change of pace. McGregor shows acid wit. And Eccleston amazes as a mouse turned monster. The whole thing is a hypnotic blend of mirth and malice.

From The Archives Issue 702: February 23, 1995