Shallow Grave (1994) — A corpse, a pile of money, and a quandary

“Oh, yes, I believe in friends, I believe we need them, but if, one day, you find you can’t trust them any more, well, what then, what then?”

Lissa’s rating: Three out of five identifiable body parts

Lissa’s review: I admit that I tend to be partial to cheerful movies. I like to respect and admire characters, and yes darn it, I like my happy endings. But every now and then I like a good dose of dark humor. Something deliciously funny, wicked and sarcastic, like Trainspotting or Grosse Point Blank.

Shallow Grave was lurking on our DVD shelf when I moved in, and of course I wanted to see it. I mean, it has Ewan McGregor! He’s a great actor and he’s dead sexy to boot! You’d think, being a pretty bright girl, I’d have caught on that most Ewan McGregor movies are really strange and unfathomable (The Pillow Book, Eye of the Beholder, Attack of the Clones…), but I like my eye candy, so I had to investigate.

Shallow Grave had something going for it — it has a plot and a premise that is understandable, thus the reason it had actually earned a place in my husband’s movie collection (he isn’t all that attracted to Ewan McGregor). It is actually possible to follow the story. This automatically makes it a better movie than The Pillow Book or Eye of the Beholder, where I was totally lost.

The premise is actually very intriguing: Three friends (Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston, and McGregor) find a bag of money and a corpse in their apartment. Naturally, they don’t call Scotland Yard and report it hoping for a reward or put huge amounts of effort into finding relations of the stiff. And of course the money isn’t from the deceased’s own private accounts or an inheritance from a grandmother. There’d be no fun in any of those scenarios. I could tell you more but I’d have to kill you, or you’d kill me for ruining the rest of the movie. Either way, it’s not an option I’m too into. But suffice to say the plot was solid. I couldn’t predict the story, but the ending that resulted did not require any additional suspension of disbelief or Olympian jumps of logic. There were twists and turns and enough tension to support a tightrope walker.

So. Good plot.

The atmosphere was suitably creepy. Granted, I’m not one to judge since I jump if you sneak up behind me while whistling, but it’s macabre, eerie, and they certainly got the “dark” part of “dark humor” down very well. Additionally, the acting was solid. I’ve always liked both McGregor and Eccleston (although I didn’t realize how much until I looked him up on IMDb and really put the face and name together), and they do an excellent job. Fox is just as solid, and I’m delighted to see her portrayed as being incredibly sexy without being the stereotype of beautiful. The three actors play off each other well and the chemistry of friendship is there.

Good cinematography. Good acting. Good mood. I even laughed several times, so we can say good humor. So why am I not raving about how wonderful this movie is? The characters themselves.

Dark humor does not require that the characters be noble, admirable, or in any way a decent human being. I wasn’t looking for that. But Alex puts it best during a scene where the three main characters are interviewing prospective flatmates: “I’m talking here about things like presence, charisma, style and charm, and I don’t think we’re asking too much, I don’t think we’re being unreasonable.” Exactly. The characters can blow people’s brains out or steal from their own grandmothers, but they need to be charismatic while doing it. You should want them to win, even though every decent thing inside you is telling you that the person on screen needs to be tortured with hot needles under the fingernails and creative uses of cheese graters. The viewer must like watching them, even as they hate the character’s guts.

I hated all three characters, but there was nothing to really make me like watching them. Perhaps they said some funny things, but the next moment they would go a little too far, and the funniness would just become pure meanness. And while that certainly was true to the character, it made me want them off the screen, not walking off with the money.

A hint to those doing dark humor: when I want the cop with the snide attitude and the pole up his butt to take these three down, something’s going wrong.

Is Shallow Grave worth it? Since it’s not in the theaters any more and you can rent it from Mike’s Video for 88 cents, absolutely. Even if you have to pay three bucks at Blockbuster, it’s worth seeing. It’s nauseating in spots (I nearly gagged, but I’m a wuss, and that R rating IS for violence more than anything else), and the characters are quite despicable and are incapable of simply dividing by three. All they needed was some things like presence, charisma, style, and charm. Would that really have been asking too much?

Didja notice?

  • That Danny Boyle really has a thing for Hitchcock movies?
  • Obviously no one in this movie has a sense of smell. How long could YOU tolerate a decaying body in your apartment?
  • When Juliet pours the wine, she only pours two glasses. In the next shot, all three glasses are full.

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