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Shallow Grave dissects murder plot with humor and wit

Shallow Grave

Directed by Danny Boyle.

Written by John Hodge.

Starring Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox, and Christopher Eccleston.

Sony Copley Place.

By Rob Wagner

The idea behind this film is not a new one: Three friends find their new flatmate dead of a drug overdose with a suitcase full of money under his bed. It would have been easy for director Danny Boyle to make this film clich and inane, by playing for laughs with a "hide the body" concept, as in a bad American sitcom. Instead, a viewer expecting a British version of Weekend at Bernie's will be pleasantly surprised.

The flatmates are David (Christopher Eccleston), a chartered accountant, Juliet (Kerry Fox), a doctor, and Alex (Ewan McGregor), a journalist. One gets to know these diametrically opposed characters so well, that their names become a blur. This film avoids the clich by creating the perfect crime. The three flatmates plan to bury the body out in the forest and keep the money. To prevent the body from being identified, they decide to saw off and incinerate the hands and feet, smash in the face with a hammer, and remove the teeth. They also plan to dispose of his car in a lake, reminiscent of Psycho.

The film presents an involved study of Eccleston's character, David, who is at first completely unwilling to involve himself with this scheme. At first, only Alex even considers the possibility of keeping the money. Juliet eventually agrees to try, though her transition is not emphasized.

David reluctantly decides to join the scheme after evaluating how dull his accounting job is and much pleading from Alex. In the meantime, the body remains in the room and "starts to smell." The flatmates decide to draw straws for who does all of the sawing and bashing of skull. Filled with fear, David is unlucky and draws the short straw. Nauseated by the task, he reluctantly obliges: The sight of him vigorously and insanely grinding through bone with a hacksaw and bashing the skull with a hammer is indeed hilarious as well as disturbing. Immediately after the incident, David becomes entrenched in a fit of depression. Inflicted with paranoia that the police are on to them and paranoia that the other flatmates are after the money, he locks himself in the attic with the suitcase full of money.

Boyle emphasizes the great amount of money in the suitcase, though it is never mentioned explicitly. He periodically shifts scenes to show two gangsters killing person after unfortunate person while searching for the money, and he emphasizes the extreme importance of keeping it safe. Only after the two gangsters break into the flat and the police encounter the evidence of apparent homicide does the plot really thicken.

The fact that the police find the bodies and then interview the flatmates sends David into an outrage, because he warns Alex earlier that the grave isn't deep enough. By this time, David is convinced that the police know everything, and his outrage intensifies Alex's fear and suspicion of him - all of which results in the total isolation of each individual. All of the money, except for that spent during a short, extravagant, and insanely happy shopping spree, remains untouchable, by reason of either fear or guilt.

In the end, with no one person trusting another, the film can be viewed as a misanthropic or misogynistic dark comedy. Despite the suspicious and contrived elements necessary to advance the plot, this film has an unexpected conclusion and is definitely suspenseful and involving.