Danny Boyle has never made the same movie twice. His resume includes films as disparate as the human endurance story "127 Hours", the Oscar-winning crowd-pleaser "Slumdog Millionaire", the zombie apocalypse "28 Days Later", the rom-com "A Life Less Ordinary" and the heroin-driven funhouse "Trainspotting". Before all that was "Shallow Grave", the film that marked the beginning of his relationship with frequent collaborator Ewan McGregor.
Juliet, David, and Alex share a beautiful, spacious, top-story flat. They are looking for a fourth roommate but it can't be just anyone; this person must have charm, presence and wit. They display a malicious sense of mischief as they interview candidates. "If I said I was the anti-Christ, what would you do?" "How do you decide what shade of black to wear?" Extra points if the candidate cries. Enter Hugo. He is interesting and mysterious and the threesome invite him to be their fourth. He moves in and… he dies. Exit Hugo. Juliet and David are momentarily shaken but Alex, a journalist by profession, is unfazed and snoops through Hugo's belongings, discovering a suitcase crammed full of money. It doesn't take them long to decide to keep the money but there remains the sticky problem of what to do with the body.
Charming and self-assured, Alex calls the shots. Juliet, ever so cool and intelligent, is content to let him. David, traditionally the odd man out, succumbs to peer pressure. However, stepping outside the bounds of conventional morality has insidious consequences. There are thugs on the trail of the money and the police are sniffing around but the film addresses the question of whether their deeds will catch up with them by focusing on the dynamics between the trio instead of whether or not they will get caught. The strong cast of Christopher Eccleston, Kerry Fox and Ewan McGregor, in his first leading role, bring depth to the characters and refuse to be boxed into stereotypes. John Hodge's acid-sharp writing and Boyle's playful direction keep the tension bubbling in this tidy look at the messiness of the human heart. Eighteen years on, the film has not lost any of its bite. Available on DVD.
With "Into the Vault", Pauline Dong will be looking at older films that were overlooked on first release or deserve a second viewing. The series will appear on the first Thursday of every month.
Written by Pauline Dong
A native Torontonian, Pauline enjoys much that the city has to offer, especially in the areas of food and drink. She is also an enthusiastic traveller and explorer of other cultures. A self-described film geek, her interest in movies was first piqued by the early works of Steven Soderbergh, Quentin Tarantino and Wong Kar-Wai. More a fan than a critic, she invites your thoughts on the films in her articles.