Sunday, June 10, 2012

SHALLOW GRAVE (Danny Boyle, 1994, UK)

Three flat mates discover just how shallow their friendship has become, their morality stripped like the skin from a corpse and consumed by gluttonous cupidity. Director Danny Boyle’s (SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE28 DAYS LATER) debut thriller is a darkly humorous dissection of the human condition. The players are Alex who is a reporter, Juliet a doctor, and David a boring accountant. 

 The film begins as they hilariously belittle prospective renters for their flat, which strengthens their camaraderie, showing just how well they tolerate and respect each other. But a mysterious man finally rents the room and dies from a drug overdose…and they discover his briefcase full of money. And someone always comes looking for a briefcase full of money! Their disposing of the body and the thugs who come looking for the money propels the plot forward, but the subtext is concerned with the effect that this has on their interrelationship. Alex and Juliet spend money frivolously while David, who had to cut apart the corpse, begins to spiral into an internal abyss of guilt, self-loathing, and all-consuming greed: after all, he’s the one who really earned it. 

Boyle’s overhead shot of the winding staircase is metaphor for the narrative, while David imprisons himself in the attic drilling holes to peer god-like upon his victims. The tight editing and taught acting combined with Boyle’s surreal camera-angles (the crawling baby would be put to better use in TRAINSPOTTING) elevate this film above a standard low-budget thriller. Though a few plot-holes exist such as the noise and smell not alerting other residents, and the police failing to notice strange holes in the ceiling, the knife-edge narrative is still compelling. 

Alex subverts his friendship and hides the blood money (literally, his blood drips through the cracks), and he becomes our empathetic connection to the story. The dreamlike ending is ambiguous: Alex is laughing while a coroner is taking his picture, the police looking rather bored in the background. We see this from above as if his spirit rising: is he dead or alive? 

Final Grade: (B)