With Trance heading into cinemas next Wednesday, the Flickering Myth writing team look back at their favourite Danny Boyle movies. First up, Helen Murdoch looks at 1994’s Shallow Grave…
Before he was a national treasure, before he reinvented the zombie film and before Trainspotting, there was Shallow Grave. I see it as quite simply one of the finest British thrillers ever made, and my favourite Danny Boyle film.
Following the story of 3 flatmates – Juliet, David and Alex (Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston and Ewan McGregor), Shallow Grave is a twisted tale of friendship and greed which all kicks off with the death of their new flatmate Hugo (Keith Allen). After finding his dead naked corpse and a suitcase full of money the three friends are faced with a decision that changes their friendship forever.
Shallow Grave might not be the most adventurous of Boyle’s films, but that’s what I love about it. The three main characters are spot on and the film is simply about greed, deception, friendship and consequences. Characterisation is where Boyle is a master, in each of his films he creates characters that feel as real as you or me, and Shallow Grave is the perfect example. Juliet, David and Alex seem like unlikely friends, but they’re all real and have their own individual quirks. Juliet is the savvy doctor, David the serious accountant and Alex the flirtatious reporter. Their friendship is enjoyable to watch, which makes what happens all the more horrifying. There are also some Boyle regulars on display, Ewan McGregor would go on to star in two other Boyle films, Peter Mullan appears briefly, Keith Allen and so on.
The balance of comedy and violence is where Shallow Grave succeeds. The film opens with a round of unconventional interviews for new flatmates which sets the film up so you think it’s something it’s not. Then the violence and horror sets in as Hugo’s body is discovered, David transforms from quiet accountant into an unhinged mess. All the while though there are moments of dark humour, from David’s outburst at a corporate party, through to Juliet and Alex’s day of shopping. By balancing the dark humour and violence – a scene with a man being left to die in a freezer has stayed with me for a long time – Boyle has created a film that is horrifying at times but this is combined with a sense of enjoyment from watching these characters. There are plotholes in Shallow Grave but it’s ultimately irrelevant when you want to watch a good thriller.
Danny Boyle and dance music seemed to go hand in hand in the 90s and he still has that influence today. Shallow Grave opens with David’s narration on friendship, backed up by a pulsating track from Leftfield. The opening isn’t as memorable as say 28 Days Later or Trainspotting but it marks Boyle’s arrival into the British film industry with such energy and gusto that it’s never left my mind. Boyle has always had a kinetic style and it is something he’s honed over recent years but if you re-examine Shallow Grave now you can see how it was the beginning of the tricks and traits that have defined him as one of Britain’s greatest directors.
Shallow Grave also marks the first union of Ewan McGregor and Danny Boyle. Although in terms of depth and acting, Trainspotting is a better film, Shallow Grave marks the beginning of their three film partnership. The promise of the two of them is clear from the offset and with Boyle stating that McGregor is open to the Trainspotting sequel; we could see this old pair back together once again.
Although you can argue that Sunshine is more sophisticated, Trainspotting is more controversial and so on, Shallow Grave will always be my favourite Boyle film. It’s stood the testament of time and from its simple plot one of the greatest British thrillers was created and introduced us to the genius of Boyle. His style of directing and his use of music has defined generations and Shallow Grave is one to watch again and again, even though you do have to see Keith Allen’s penis.