Criterion Gems: Shallow Grave

shallow grave criterion cover

From today I’m gonna introduce a new series on Taste of Cinema called Criterion Gems,which consists a series of reviews of the Criterion Collection titles that need to be discovered by more film fans.Let’s start this marathon with one of their new titles,British Oscar-winning director Danny Boyle’s thrilling debut – Shallow Grave.

First let’s have a look at the success and importance of this film.This is Danny Boyle‘s first film as a film director,it also marks his first collaboration with the other two members of the trio – screenwriter John Hodge, and producer Andrew Macdonald.It’s the most commercially successful British film of 1995,and won major film awards like BAFTA for best British film in 1995and the Golden Hitchcock award in Dinard British Film Festival in 1994.Not only a breakthrough for Boyle himself,this film is also a refreshing force for British Cinema in the middle-1990s,at that time,renowned British directors like Ken Loach and Mike Leigh have just made one of their own bests,their two works almost swept the awards in Cannes in 1993,with Loach’s Raining Stones won the Special Jury Prize and Leigh’s Naked won both Best Director and Best Actor awards.British cinema  looked terrific but the political awareness of both films kept them away from the mainstream audiences,when someone totally new like Boyle made something  completely out of the box a year after,British audience finally found a filmmaker who can combine his auteur quality and commercial potential perfectly,and most important,political-free and easy to appreciate.

shallow grave ewan macgreg

The story of the film is simple enough to be summed up in one or two sentences.It’s about three British young people,David (Christopher Eccleston),Juliet(Kerry Fox) and Alex(Ewan McGregor) auditioned a man called Hugo as their fourth member in their living residence,after finding his weird death,they decided to kept the whole thing in secret and split a box of money found under his bed.You can guess the rest of the story for sure.

With such a simple and conventional story,how did screenwriter John Hodge turn it into something unique and refreshing?Let’s talk about it a bit.In the first half an hour of the film,the writer deliberately introduces the beautiful relationships among the three leading characters,he also writes hilarious extended audition scenes to create a sort of lighthearted atmosphere to let the audience off guard.Up until now,everything is moving forward as if it would end as a comedy,nobody can sense the storm that is to come shortly.

After they found the horrible corpse in Hugo’s room,the writer cleverly set up the plot that only one person should cut the body to pieces,and the responsibility accidentally falls on the shoulder of the nerd-looking David.So our focus are all on David since he is the person who feels the most guilt for the whole matter,so we guess if something goes wrong,it would be David.

Normally,other writers would soon arrange the policeman investigation after the murder,but Hodge takes his time and builds tensions by letting David move to the loft and surveil the daily actions of his other two roommates,one great scene here is he moves back and forth to watch Juliet change her clothes in her room. As David kills the two mobs who are looking for the money,we think David is the big boss and the ultimate evil force,and he will be the sole person who takes the money away,but in the confrontation among the trio in the last twenty minutes of the film,Hodge keeps us guess wrongly over and over again.

Danny Boyle is very bold in this film,his fast-moving camera movement at the beginning and in the woods,fast cutting skills during the audition scenes and all those R-rated scenes like the full-view shot of Hugo’s dead body and the bloody dismember scenes,all these are like from another world if you recall those working class real life based films in British cinema at that time,and audiences would see these styles over and over again in his later films.After this film,Boyle reunites screenwriter John Hodge and producer Andrew Macdonald and shoots the landmark film of British cinema in 1990s,Trainspotting,a more subversive film about the world of British young people.

What’s your thoughts on this film?