“Shallow Grave” is a thriller that challenges you based on how you feel about the characters. Since we are aware early on that the characters in this movie – nee, the heroes – are unlikable and snobbish, that kind of puts us at a distance. Our concern for their safety is thus pushed away. That pulls the rug out from under the whole film.
The story is intriguing. Three twerpy snobs, David Stephens (Christopher Eccleston), an accountant, Juliet (Kerry Fox) and Alex (Ewan McGregor) share a roomy flat in Edinburgh and decide to rent out the spare room. During the (somewhat mean-spirited) application process, they have a blast poking fun at the potential applicants. Finally one suits their fancy, an older man named Keith who not only gets the room but catches Juliet”s eye.
The next day they find Keith dead in his room. Searching the room, they find a suitcase filled with a mountain of cash. What to do with it? No one besides the three roommates knows that Keith has been there so they decide to cut up the body and split the cash among themselves.
This easier said then done. First is deciding who will cut him up, where they will take the pieces, whether anyone suspects them and whether or not they trust one another. The situation snowballs out of control as one bad turn becomes another and the three become more and more paranoid.
This is not exactly a new idea. The story was told better by the Coen Brothers in “Blood Simple” and in “Fargo” with more of a twist of human nature in Sam Raimi”s “A Simple Plan”. But those films were done with a sense of the characters. They used a visual style and in the case of Raimi”s film they used likable people who were suddenly finding themselves doing things that they never thought imaginable.
This movie was directed by Danny Boyle who somehow made likable characters out of heroine addicts with his breakthrough film ‘Trainspotting”. But ‘Shallow Grave” is a movie that depends on how we feel about people who find themselves doing horrible things to feed their own greed. The closer they get to being caught, the more we have to care about them in order to feel for them. This unwholesome trio is not exactly a group that you would want to spend five minutes with much less care about their fate.