Shallow Grave (UK - BD RB)
Marcus takes a look at another Danny Boyle film about millionaires on Blu-ray
Three close friends, Alex (Ewan McGregor), David (Christopher Eccleston) and Juliet (Kerry Fox) are looking for a new flatmate, and can't find a good match for their overly picky tastes. That is, until Hugo (Keith Allen) arrives. After moving in, no one sees Hugo, so the three friends decide to break into his room to find out what’s going on. What greets them is their new housemate's dead body, as well as a suitcase crammed with money.
With nothing to connect the housemates to the cash and with the only hurdle being disposing of Hugo’s dead body, the three friends go about setting themselves up for life, but can they survive the weight of their choices?
I haven't seen Shallow Grave since the days of VHS and even then I only saw it once, maybe twice. I watched it after Danny Boyle's follow up movie, Trainspotting and so Shallow Grave only really hit my watch list because I wanted to see another Danny Boyle/Ewan McGregor movie as opposed to actively seeking it out. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Shallow Grave, but somehow never got round to upgrading or even watching on DVD.
All I really remembered of Shallow Grave was the key points: the naked Keith Allen, the body disposal, the holes in the ceiling and the crowbar to the shins (ouch). Watching it again thirteen years later, my initial feeling was that I really should have watched this more over the years and Danny Boyle started out with a bloody good first movie.
For starters, the story unravels incredibly well. The fun loving threesome sharing the flat in all their nineties glory begin the movie as an odd collective who share the same home. They have fun, they're close and they’re all seemingly open with one another. When they find the body, the cracks begin to show, mainly in Eccleston’s character, but still this is all quite upbeat and nineties ‘cool’. However, once they decide upon their plan, the movie steps into a far darker and sinister place.
I’d forgotten quite how effective the body disposal scenes were. The conversation in the hardware store between Alex and David about cutting off the hands and feet and more so, smashing the teeth in with a hammer is still an incredibly effective and fun scene. However, the brutal realism of how those acts actually play out really hammers home (no pun intended) how different saying this stuff is to actually doing it and this is really what sets up the rest of the movie and David’s descent into madness.
I really like a good descent into madness movie and while this one is actually quite tame in comparison to some of others out there and Eccleston’s performance makes it feel a whole lot realer than the more extreme looks at the theme. He's also backed up with a great performance by McGregor, who reminded me how much fun he could be in a movie and sadly how he hasn't really been like that for a while.
After this re-watch, I see why I never rushed back into revisiting Shallow Grave. Despite enjoying how the story plays out, I just find the last third a little too much. The realism of the first two acts makes way for a more cinematic and typical finale and even though the twist puts a smile on my face and once again reminds me of just how effortlessly great Mcgregor was in the nineties, I just give up caring about this group of characters as their actions all seem that nudge too far for me to believe anymore.
This is a transfer that's never going to win any real praise on the HD front, but considering the age of the film and the limited production value, Shallow grave actually looks quite fresh and clean. The colour palette helps as the friends flat is quite bold in its pastels and some of the darker scenes can even look quite good, despite the lack of any real deep blacks.
The transfer has a fuzzy grain throughout (unless the scene is well lit) and detail levels are not all that high, but considering the last time I saw this was VHS and I've had no experience with the previous DVD transfer, this was a whole lot better than I expected it to look.
With the limitations of a 2.0 audio track, there's not too much in the way of dynamics going on here. The echoes of the large rooms in the flat are captured well, with dialogue sounding realistic but generally the track feels quite constrained and often sounds a little odd when the music is fighting to fit in with dialogue. A prime example is the presentation of Nina Simone's ‘My Baby Just Cares for Me’ in one of the scenes, the song feels weak and ineffective and generally that can be said for much of the movie's music backed moments.
'Digging Your Own Grave'(30:01 SD) is a great chronicling of the making of the movie. Told with camcorder footage and capturing much of the movies ins and outs, it's a nice look at the beginning of what has become a movie making super group.
'Danny Boyle on Shallow Grave' (02:01 SD) is one of the Film 4 channel's buffers between movies with the director fitting in a good amount of detail in two minutes.
'Ewan McGregor on Shallow Grave' (07:29 SD) is an excerpt from a 2002 interview in which he talks about Shallow Grave and his experiences making it. He also gives his views on the excitement of the British Film Industries blink and you'll miss it revival at the time and musings on exactly where all the excitement, bravery and talent went. Ain't that the truth!
Danny Boyle's commentary is quite technical, but never in a way that becomes a slog to listen to. He's quite happy with what they achieved with the one million they had to spend (and rightly so) and fills the track with lots of great stories from the shoot as well as a genuine insight into filmmaking.
Shallow Grave was a grand start for Danny Boyle, showing off his flair for visuals and telling great character based stories, even if it shares many of the same problems I have with much of his filmography (great set-ups, but weak pay offs).
The disc is okay, with nothing to write home about in the A/V department and even though the features were entertaining, they weren't exactly thrilling, so as a recommendation for an HD upgrade, fans should enjoy it but maybe the newcomer glancing back over Danny Boyle's earlier work might not get as much out of it.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page.
Review by Marcus Doidge
Suitable only for persons of 18 years and over
Release Date: 1st June 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: LPCM 2.0 Stereo English
Extras: Commentary with Danny Boyle, 'Digging Your Own Grave' BBC Documentary Directed by Kevin McDonald, Danny Boyle on Shallow Grave, Ewan McGregor on Shallow Grave
Easter Egg: No
Director: Danny Boyle
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Eccleston, Kerry Fox
Genre: Drama and Thriller
Length: 92 minutes
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