Blighty’s new wave of knock-’em-dead filmers has a banner to march under with “Shallow Grave,” a tar-black comedy that zings along on a wave of visual and scripting inventiveness. Film Four Intl. looks set to rack up healthy sales on this first feature of English TV director Danny Boyle, which will delight buff audiences and has the potential to break out into wider markets, too.
Reaction at its world preem screening in the Cannes market was hot, with many questioning why pic wasn’t in any of the fest’s sections, despite having been submitted for both competition and Directors Fortnight.
Main surprise is that “Grave” manages to sustain its oddball humor and theatrical style without depending on non-stop eye-whacking tricks. First script by Glasgow-based doctor John Hodge (who cameos as a cop) keeps springing surprises until the final shot, and Boyle’s direction, though often hyper, manages to serve up an intelligent movie without sacrificing narrative drive or reducing the actors to characterless pawns.
Story, set in modern-day Scotland, revolves around a trio of unlikely friends sharing a spacious top-floor apartment. Juliet (Kerry Fox) is a seemingly levelheaded nurse, David (Christopher Eccleston) is a studiously boring accountant in a stuffy firmand Alex (Ewan McGregor) is a wild-side journalist on a local rag.
From their first appearance, grilling applicants for a fourth lodger, it’s clear they’ve all got several screws loose. The lodger problem is solved when Juliet takes a shine to the rough-looking, mysterious Hugo (Keith Allen, the psycho in “Beyond Bedlam”), who soon takes up residence. A short time later, Hugo is found dead in bed, his drawer stuffed with drugs and a suitcase stuffed with money.
After shilly-shallying over what to do, the trio decide to chop up the cadaver, bury the bits and keep the loot — a sequence that sets the tone for the pic’s several grisly comic set pieces.
Finale in the apartment is a real tour de force of black humor, with multiple double-crosses and twists up to the final fadeout.
Boyle’s background in theater before moving over to TV (“Inspector Morse”) shows in the pic’s exaggerated but actorly approach. In look and feel, however, this is pure moviemaking, with a seamless blend of production design, music, editing, sound and lensing.
Buffs will note stylistic parallels to the Coen brothers’ early pix, especially “Raising Arizona,” but there’s a trove of others for those wanting to make connections. (Cinephiles can also dine on the fact that producer Andrew Macdonald is related to Emeric Pressburger.)
Playing and casting are strong down the line. Of the central trio, Kiwi actress Fox rates special praise for her disarming portrayal of everyday madness.
Among the tiptop behind-the-camera credits, production designer Kave Quinn’s superb set of the off-center apartment is a constant delight, with its color-coded rooms and its play with light. Reported budget was a mere T1 million ($ 1.5 million), with every cent up on the screen.