Color, 1994, 92m.
Directed by Danny Boyle
Starring Ewan McGregory, Christopher Eccleston, Kerry Fox, Ken Stott, Keith Allen
Criterion (Blu-Ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DTS-HD MA 2.0, Channel 4 (Blu-Ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9) / PCM 2.0, Umbrella (Australia R4 PAL), MGM (US/UK R1/R2 NTSC/PAL), Polygram (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DD2.0.
Few current filmmakers can boast a career as diverse as Danny Boyle, whose roster ranges from a trend-setting horror classic (28 Days Later) to a rags-to-riches Best Picture winner (Slumdog Millionaire) to perhaps the single defining British youth film of the '90s (Trainspotting). However, it all really began for him on the big screen with Shallow Grave, a crafty little morality tale/thriller with a potent dash of gothic horror and bloody shock moments. On top of that it also marked the first leading role for Ewan McGregor, with whom he reunited on two subsequent films including, of course, Trainspotting (which was also penned by this film's screenwriter, John Hodge).
The twists and turns begin when three self-absorbed twentysomethings -- doctor Juliet (An Angel at My Table's Fox), accountant David (future Doctor Who Eccleston), and journalist Alex (McGregor) -- advertise for a new flatmate in Glasgow and get more than they bargained for with Hugo (Allen), who winds up dead from an overdose shortly after moving in. To complicate matters, he's left behind a large suitcase full of cash. At first they debate going to the police but instead decide to dismember and hide the body, keeping the money for themselves. However, some sadistic thugs are now looking for it, and even the three friends aren't sure they can trust each other anymore...
Of course the basic thrust of this story is as old as Chaucer, but the devil's in the details here as Boyle expertly drives the suspense levels through the roof with the aid of his terrific three lead performers. The characters could have easily become despicable scum, and they certainly do seem like it in the opening scenes; however, the savvy writing and sheer style mark it as a very different kind of suspense film fueled as much by attitude and mood as traditional plotting. Think of it as Blood Simple for the Oasis generation.
A home video mainstay since the mid-'90s, Shallow Grave has gone through a number of editions over the years but in virtually bare-bones editions for most of the DVD era. The first Blu-Ray from the UK in 2009 looked rather good and certainly improved on the SD versions (which were by and large pretty unimpressive), and for Region B audiences it delivered on the extras front with an entertaining Boyle commentary (mainly about the ins and outs of getting the project mounted after his TV work and his processes with the actors), a half-hour "Digging Your Own Grave" doc for the BBC by producer Kevin MacDonald about the making of the film, and very brief new video comments from Boyle and McGregor about making the film.
Three years later, Criterion brought the film back into circulation in the US with an expanded special edition on Blu-Ray (with an accompanying DVD release), and the transfer is even better; the colors really pop here even more than the theatrical prints, especially those all-important reds which leap out right from the opening scene. Some other nice visual touches become more prominent as well, such as striking lime highlights at the edges of some shots which were muted or completely absent in most past versions. On the downside it also blatantly exposes a key latex gore effect late in the film a bit too much, but that's the price you pay with HD these days. The lossless 2.0 surround track is comparable to the UK one (there's never been a 5.1 mix for any release to date) and does a fine job with the eclectic soundtrack, which includes a hauntingly chilly score by Simon Boswell (hot off his work on Dust Devil) and a killer opening techno theme by Leftfield. Optional English subtitles are included as well (like the UK one). The Boyle commentary and BBC documentary are carried over here, while new extras include a second commentary with Hodge and MacDonald, who dig more into the creation of the original script, getting it sold, and putting all the nuts and bolts of it together in Scotland. An additional short video diary from '94 shows MacDonald and company at the Edinburgh Film Festival, while the three leads appear for a new half-hour video chat about the film in which they go into more depth about their collaboration with Boyle and their relative levels of experience at the time (Eccleston still being fairly new after his outstanding turn in Let Him Have It, while Fox was probably the most famous of the bunch after working with Jane Campion). The theatrical trailer and a bonus teaser for Trainspotting close out the excellent disc itself, which also features liner notes by Philip Kemp, who sketches out the story of the film's creation from script to its BAFTA win along with a few notes about its post-Thatcher political subtext and Hitchcock homages.