Director Danny Boyle's inaugural outing is a sly thriller which I believe Hitchcock would've applauded. I don't throw that phrase around lightly, or at every Hitchcockian effort I've come across. SHALLOW GRAVE earns that compliment with its stealthy plotting, sneering black humour, and gradually suffocating tension. Hitch never made a film quite like this, or as grim, though had he been offered the screenplay I think he might've at least been tempted.
A trio of young, caustic Scottish professionals need a roommate for their Edinburgh flat. David (Christopher Eccleston), Juliet (Kerry Fox), and Alex (Ewan McGregor) take joy in humiliating several candidates before settling on Hugo (Keith Allen). He's an elusive one, and when he mysteriously turns up dead the roommates discover a trunk full of cash in his room. The baser instincts overtake these otherwise intelligent individuals. And it is a shame that it doesn't occur to them that someone - possibly quite murderous- may be looking for the money.
As they often say with films like SHALLOW GRAVE, to reveal more would be criminal. John Hodge's script expertly and logically rides the serpentine plot line to a deliciously and satisfyingly bleak conclusion. This is what you might call a supreme example of a "just desserts" thriller, where everyone gets exactly what they deserve. In some ways, this movie is like a grislier, coal black version of Seinfeld. I'll leave you to discover that knockout finale, one of my favorite ever, but throughout the film each character suffers for their misdeeds, often quite evil. I especially enjoyed David's comeuppance in a men's room, even if the moment is marginalized from the central plot. Greed drives every sordid action, rapidly changing the relationships among the three principals, who begin as close friends. No possibility therein is left unexplored. Boyle wastes nary a moment.
Stories with multiple plot twists have always stirred much conversation among myself and cinema mad compadres. I recall having a mildly intense debate with another old friend over A SIMPLE PLAN, which bears some similarity to SHALLOW GRAVE. That would be a nifty double feature, though I'm not sure if Sam Raimi's 1998 thriller earns the same treatment Criterion has given the other film. Wonder what my old hs pal thinks?