Shallow Grave (Criterion Blu-ray)
Director - Danny Boyle
Cast - Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston
Country of Origin - U.K.
Discs - 1
MSRP - $39.95
Distributor - Criterion
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
The Film (4/5)
When I think of Shallow Grave, I first recall the first serious feature film project I attempted to undertake with one of my best friends back in the summer of 2002. We had written a script, had raised a tiny budget, and secured a few local locations to shoot in. One of these locations was a pizza parlor that had an enthusiastic film geek such as myself as an employee, and as the pizza place also served as catering as well as a location I found myself frequently going there and discussing film with this kid.
I had recently seen, and fallen in love with Danny Boyle's film Trainspotting (it instantly became, and still is my favorite film of all time), and he too was a fan. However, any time I would bring up Trainspotting he would respond with the title Shallow Grave. He told me it was Boyle's debut feature, it was made directly before Trainspotting, and had the same sort of energy he would bring to the latter film. I knew I had to see it, but as I was a young aspiring director trying to get a film off the ground, I simply didn't have the time.
A few years later I managed to secure a copy of the MGM DVD of the film. It was letterboxed, which by 2003-2004 when I bought it was already considered a blow against, however, I had a tiny 20" CRT so to me it didn't matter, and the film looked great. Ewan McGregor did bring a similar energy to the film as he did with Trainspotting, a bit more raw, but it almost feels like a warmup, and I was most surprised by the young Christopher Eccleston, who I would now know as the military leader in 28 Days Later, and who would go on to act in my favorite TV show of all time, Doctor Who.
Unfortunately, the film as a whole did not impress me. I could see that Boyle, alongside his co-conspirators writer John Hodge and producer Andrew MacDonald were trying to channel the works of Alfred Hitchcock, with most of the action confined to a single set, and a very tightly woven suspense premise. However, it did not simply connect on that viewing. I stuck the DVD on my shelf, and every few years I would pull it out hoping that I would finally get what I was missing. Gradually, the film did reveal many different layers upon repeat viewings, but ultimately I saw it as a technical exercise by a young Danny Boyle preparing his filmmaking chops for a great and varied career.
I got rid of the letterboxed DVD a number of years ago, for essentially no reason during a move, and have been waiting to revisit the film for some time. When Criterion announced the acquisition of Shallow Grave for a North American Blu-ray release, I knew that this was do or die. This would very likely be the best the film would ever look and sound on home video, and as a good little geek I took the bait.
This time the film connected, it connected hard.
The restoration of this film (which I will go into more technical details on later), brought out little nuances in the film that I may not have noticed on my little CRT TV back in the day or later on my HDTV on that crappy letterboxed DVD. Criterion have restored a young, but masterful filmmakers work to such a degree, that it has completely changed the film, and while I have always noted the Hitchcockian influence on the film, never has it been more prevalent than it is on this disc.
The film stars Ewan McGregor, Kerry Fox, and Christopher Eccleston as Alex, Juliet, and David, a trio of roommates who are hard at work searching for a fourth roommate to fill an empty room in their flat. The trio being young, and quite a bit obnoxious make filling the vacancy difficult for the prospective candidates by barraging them with ridiculous, and insulting questions, and other ways to test their patience. That is until Juliet, on her own, interviews Hugo. She is immediately taken with him, and agrees to arrange a dinner with the other roommates to discuss the prospect of him moving in. They all agree that he is indeed the ideal candiate, and he quickly pays up, and moves in.
Unfortunately, for them it was not that easy. Almost immediately after moving into the flat Hugo overdoses, and dies leaving behind a suitcase fall of a vast amount of money. Alex, Juliet, and David quickly decide to keep the money, and dispose of Hugo's body in what else? A shallow grave. Unfortunately, for the trio it is not as simple as taking the money and running off, as a couple of mafia-type hoods are searching for the money. These 2 eventually discover Hugo's last known whereabouts, and attempt to retrieve the money from the flat, but are killed by David. With the pressure of potential additional mob intervention, and the police investigating the three murders David's sanity begins to unravel, and their once tightly knit friendship begins to disintegrate with constantly shifting loyalties, and betrayals.
As I stated in the prior section the A/V upgrade to Shallow Grave is so MASSIVE from the DVD to his Blu-ray edition there really is no reason to hang on to the DVD at this point, which on top of being bare bones, was a very ugly presentation. Criterion have presented Shallow Grave in what I can only describe as a glorious 1:85:1 AVC encoded 1080p transfer. The transfer has fantastic detail, especially in close ups, but you can see fine background details in the apartment quite well. Outside of the detail, flesh tones are accurate, black levels are deep, and colors are simply OUTSTANDING. Shallow Grave has always been a colorful film, but it really gets to show off those colors beautifully here.
The audio is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track that matches the video in quality. The dialogue is completely audible and clear throughout the track. I could not pick up on any cracks, pops, and hissing on the track. The effects and music are mixed very well, and along with the dialogue never seem to overpower any of the other elements. Optional English subtitles are included overall, an excellent track.
Criterion have not only put together an excellent A/V restoration, but they have assembled an excellent pastiche of extra features for their release of Shallow Grave. The disc kicks off with 2 commentary tracks, an archival commentary track with director Danny Boyle, and a newly recorded track with writer John Hodge, and producer Andrew MacDonald. We then have a documentary featurette called Digging Your Own Grave, directed by Last King of Scotland and Marley director Kevin MacDonald. We then have video diaries shot by the Andrew and Kevin MacDonald that total about 9 minutes in length. This is followed by a series of interviews shot by Criterion in 2012 with Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston, and Ewan McGregor. The disc is rounded off by the trailers for the film, and a teaser for Trainspotting. Also included is a booket with an essay by film critic Philip Kemp.
Shallow Grave is an excellent debut feature from director Danny Boyle, and features a stunning young cast which included such up and comers as Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, the Star Wars prequels), and Christopher Eccleston (28 Days Later, DOCTOR WHO!). The film is an absolute fantastic little thriller, and the restoration by Criterion is nothing short of phenomenal. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.