Quantum Geek: Shallow Grave (May 1994)

Today's Quantum Geek movie review is very special indeed, for the fact that it practically charts the beginning of a movie director's phenomenal twenty years of commercial success, critical acclaim and popularity.

nerdgenious.com's Quantum Geek classic movie review series revisits classic Danny Boyle film

There aren't many movie directors out there that have hit the proverbial nail on the head when it comes to pleasing fans and critics alike, while regularly producing consistent quality cinema. Not even the continually hyped Quentin Tarantino has shown such filmmaking mastery, or remained humble throughout, like Britain's own Danny Boyle.

Boyle, who began his directorial career in 1987, had worked a lot in television up until 1994, where he caught the attention of nations with this brilliant little movie. It didn't do amazingly well at the time when it came to making profits at the box office, but it was nowhere near a failure. In fact, it still kicks the arse off most modern attempts...

Quantum Geek movie retrospective series revisits May 1994 

Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston and Kerry Fox star in early Danny Boyle thriller
It's all smiles and laughter until someone pisses in the Lambrini.
Three friends living in a four-bedroom apartment in Edinburgh, Scotland, search for a new flatmate to take up the spare room. After cruelly subjecting several applicants for the vacancy, they settle for the no less than dodgy Hugo, who quickly ends up dead. Discovering a suitcase full of money, they decide to split it between them and dispose of the body, but when the police and other unsavoury characters start showing up and sniffing about, they each become alienated and paranoid, turning on each other in a series of mind-games, bizarre episodes and shocking violence!

That's it, in a nutshell, but this is no simple little movie, despite it's estimated budget of around £3 million. Shallow Grave is a perfectly crafted character study, psychological thriller and, despite its seeming lack in adventure, you'd be very surprised as to how much can go on in and around a four-bedroom apartment. You'd be even more surprised to learn that this movie took 30 days to film. That's right, Hollywood, you tired, bloated old hag.

Heading the cast are babyfaces Ewan McGregor as journalist Alex, Christopher Eccleston as accountant David, and Kerry Fox as Juliette (I can't remember what she does and IMDb is playin' possum), and despite them being so young at the time, they were excellent choices in actors at the time. In fact, it was almost as if Boyle knew they'd be huge names one day. But then you remember that they have Boyle to thank. But what really catches you about this unsuspected psycho-thriller is the perfect character dynamic. It's an ensemble cast, and thanks to the intelligent writing of Trainspotting and The Beach scribe, every single drop of talent is put to best use through the laughs and the absurd decadence, and then through the grudges and alliances that are born as the pressure builds and the honeymoon period dies off.

It comes down to the already sly natures of our flatmates. McGregor, as Alex, is a total dick. He's the friend you accept is a total dick, because he's a totally funny dick at the best of times. But that really doesn't help when the situation leads to the straight-laced one of the group (repressed accountant David) ends up being the one that has to dismember the dead drug dealer's body, as Alex and Juliette look on and think of how they're going to spend their portion of the suitcase. With Juliette being so often split down the middle to appease everybody, that leads David to become ever more alienated from the others, until he goes loopy and decides to live in the loft with the money; drilling holes in the ceiling so he can keep tabs on everybody.

"Ha! Alienated. It's not like I'm Dr Who, or anything..."
When things couldn't get any more strange, they just take a turn for the explicitly violent and thugs suddenly turn up at the apartment, looking for the lost money. You just don't know what's worse, Alex having his shins caved in, or McGregor's way too realistic reaction to having his shins caved in. Boyle has a knack for making people open their eyes wide with terror when their usual reaction is to look the other way. His affinity for both horror and engaging drama are what make movies like this such a lively experience.

With David going full-on Norman Bates, the rattled Alex and Juliette hatch a plan to grab the money and get the fuck outta dodge, but how do you do that when your every move is being watched? The movie twists and turns its way to its finale like a modern day Hitchcock thriller and like hell am I going to spoil that for you!

The New York Times tried to sell this to the Pulp Fiction fans of the day. I don't know why, as there's no resemblance, apart from the fact that both of them are two great revolutionary films of their time. It probably didn't do Boyle many favours, though, as it would be another half a decade before the US started to pay attention. Regardless, this didn't just see the beginnings of many stars in the making, it gave us the means to witness the birth of more realistic, original eye-opening filmmaking that engages the audience. That, coupled with colourful and contrasting cinematography that reminds me of Johnnie To thrillers, just better written and planned out.

Shallow Grave stars one Dr Who (Christopher Eccleston) and one Jedi Master (Ewan McGregor as Obi Wan Kenobe)
And ever since, Danny Boyle's films have never lost that razor sharp Shallow Grave edge.It's no doubt helped that Boyle continues to work with scriptwriter John Hodge, who also worked on Trainspotting, A Life Less Ordinary and The Beach, to name a few. It's relationships like those with Hodge and Alex Garland that make Boyle's films so familiar to us, and in fact, look to the other movies of Eccleston and McGregor, other than the ones that reunited them with Boyle. They may have matured over the space of twenty years, and their spells in Star Wars and Dr Who may have made them domestic names, but it's the dramas and thrillers that take notes from Danny Boyle that they thrive in. Maybe you ought to revisit Shallow Grave with me and see just how much in cinema and television has changed since then.

Thanks again for reading, feel free to comment on your favourite Shallow Grave and Danny Boyle moments, and be sure to join us again next month as we head into June of each awesome decade in geek movie history!

-Dan Ashley
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