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Film / Shallow Grave

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L-R: Obi-Wan Kenobi, some chick and The Ninth Doctor.

Shallow Grave (1994) is a British crime thriller film and Black Comedy starring Ewan McGregor in his first major film role, alongside Christopher Eccleston and Kerry Fox. Danny Boyle's directorial debut, the movie follows three friends who share a flat in Edinburgh. When their new flatmate, Hugo, dies suddenly of a drug overdose, they discover that the suitcase he brought contained a very large amount of cash. They decide to keep the money, disposing of the late Hugo in a shallow grave, and all seems well, until some of Hugo's associates come looking for him...

Shallow Grave contains examples of:

  • Armor-Piercing Response: The one David delivers to Alex over dinner is so literally stomach churning that nobody can finish their meal.
    Alex: (referring to the case full of money they have procured from the late Hugo) If you can't have it - spend it - then what use is it? None. It's all for nothing. I didn't get into this for nothing, so that I could have nothing.
    David: Yeah, and you didn't have to saw his feet off.
  • Art Imitates Art: The color scheme for the flat was based on Edward Hopper's painting Hotel Lobby.
  • Black Comedy: The film starts off as a dramedy about three roommates who put out a classified ad for a fourth person to fill in an empty spot in their flat. They heckle most of the applicants, until finding Hugo, whom they all agree would make a fine roommate. Or so they think... Turns out he's a criminal who has murdered before, and, shortly after he moves in, the three find him dead in his room of a drug overdose, with a large briefcase full of money lying next to him. They make the decision to not report the crime, dismember the body, and keep the money for themselves. Hilarity (and psychopathy) ensue.
  • Briefcase Full of Money: Hugo has a suitcase full of money that serves as the MacGuffin for the film though the exact amount is never revealed.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Alex and the bundle of newspapers with "Triple Corpse Horror" on the headline.
  • City with No Name: The film is set in an unnamed Scottish city. Both Edinburgh and Glasgow were used for exterior shots.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: With emphasis on the "Cold" part. When trying to track down Hugo, the criminals drown one of his associates in a bathtub full of bloody water, then locks another in a freezer while trying to get information on his whereabouts from them. When they finally locate the flat where Hugo spent his final moments, they introduce themselves to Alex by smashing both his shins with a crowbar.
  • Continuity Nod: Implied in an audio commentary for Danny Boyle's second film Trainspotting. Hugo was played by Keith Allen, who played a dealer that was given a suitcase filled with money by the main characters in Trainspotting, which suggests that that dealer was Hugo.
  • Creator Cameo: Writer John Hodge appears in the role of Detective Constable Mitchell, whose main duty appears to be writing: "Make a note of that, Mitchell. ... Write it down."
  • Creepy Doll: The crawling baby doll which Alex and Juliet mount the camcorder on.
  • Crowbar Combatant: Andy, one of the two hitmen looking for Hugo, likes to use a crowbar to beat information out his victims.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Alex definitely seems to be having more fun than David or Juliet. Then again, he is played by Ewan McGregor so it was pretty much inevitable that he'd be this.
    • The older inspector is like this as part of his trade - it throws everyone off balance and leaves them at his mercy.
  • Dies Wide Open: Both Hugo and David. Hugo's eyes are seen staring back at David as he's about to smash his face in. When David is later stabbed his eyes remain open even as he is taken to the mortuary.
  • Dismembering the Body: David draws the short straw and is tasked with dismembering Hugo's body in order to conceal his death and allow the three flatmates to keep his money.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: The criminals who spend the first half of the film tracking down the money are disposed of with frightening ease by the film's most truly dangerous character around the halfway mark.
  • Everyone Has Standards: David has no problem cutting people up (after the first instance), but he can't bring himself to watch Juliet undress.
  • Facial Horror: David has removed Hugo's hands and feet. But the dental records need to be removed. Up comes the hammer, then down again, off-screen.
  • Fan Disservice: No one needed to see Keith Allen's dead, pasty, corpulent nudity.
  • Freak Out: Mild-mannered David completely loses it after being coerced into dismembering Hugo's corpse and rendering his face unrecognisable with a hammer.
  • Freudian Trio:
    • Id: Alex.
    • Superego: David.
    • Ego: Juliet.
  • Gold Digger: Juliet decides to try and get back on David's good side by sleeping with him. This is lampshaded by Alex: "I'd try the same thing, only I'm not his type".
  • Gold Fever: A suitcase full of cash turns the trio into cold blooded murderers.
  • Happy Flashback: The film ends with Happy Heart by Andy Williams rolling over a repeated sequence of the three flatmates earlier in the movie, laughing and hugging. Wham.
  • Hint Dropping: When David tries to escape with the suitcase full of money Alex suggests to Juliet that they should "let him take it all". This leaves her to discover far too late that Alex has replaced the cash with newspaper.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Alex gets nailed to the floor with a knife through his shoulder, but survives.
  • Informed Ability: Alex is smarter than everyone and Mitchell, the younger inspector, is a rising star. The first one is proven to be true in the end.
  • Jerkass: Alex, at least to begin with. Though none of the three could be considered particularly likeable, even before the money is found.
  • Kick the Dog: Used by all three of the characters to some extent, but David takes the dog biscuit.
  • Locked in a Freezer: The two men looking for Hugo use this as an interrogation tactic on someone whom they suspect knows his whereabouts.
  • Love Letter Lunacy: Juliet's love-letters, which are definitely not written by Alex:
    "Aroused and inflamed?! He even signs them in his own name, can you believe it? I'd sign someone else's name... I'd sign his name!... If I wrote them that is, which I don't."
  • A MacGuffin Full of Money: The suitcase full of cash. The plot involves the main trio trying to keep said money.
  • Modesty Towel: In one scene, Juliet wears a towel around her waist, rather defeating the purpose.
  • Mysterious Past: It's never explained exactly where Hugo got the money from, how the two criminals are related to him, and exactly what criminal enterprises he is involved in (other than murdering a man at a cashpoint). Although an audio feature in Trainspotting suggests he is a drug dealer, this is circumspect, and particularly for people who saw the film when it first came out, the mystery was particularly glaring, since Trainspotters would not come out for another two years.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Used to great effect by Alex.
  • Oh, Crap!: Andy, who has spent the film gleefully beating and torturing Hugo's location out of people (and violently mugged a complete stranger at a cash machine) is reduced to frozen terror while trying to turn the light on in the loft... with good reason.
  • Old Cop, Young Cop: Detective Inspector McCall and Detective Constable Mitchell, whose main duty appears to be writing the interview notes for his senior partner: "Make a note of that, Mitchell. ... Write it down."
  • One-Book Author: The part of the man being drowned required a "really good" swimmer. As a result, this was Glen Glendinning’s only acting job.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Christopher Eccleston's Scottish accent is passable, but still cracks from time to time.
  • Plot-Triggering Death: The story kicks off when Hugo is found dead of an overdose. The trio's problems really start once they've disposed of his corpse.
  • Posthumous Narration: The film is narrated by David, who is the only one of the three main characters to die in the film.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Since David had the Briefcase Full of Money with him at all times, when did Alex switch it out for the newspapers?
    • It's made quite clear he does it on the night that Juliet and David are in bed together. At that point David doesn't have the briefcase with him, since he thinks Alex doesn't know it has been submerged in the water tank.
  • Secret Test of Character: Alex pulled one on Juliet when he's Hint Dropping. He didn't say a single word while being pinned to the floor with a knife in his shoulder.
  • Shout-Out: According to the commentary, David's look was inspired by David Cronenberg.
  • A Simple Plan: Zig-Zagged. The plan itself goes smooth and our trio is relatively safe even during police investigation. It's their mounting paranoia that starts to complicate things.
  • Skilled, but Naive: The trio when they meet Hugo. They have no problems mocking and humiliating other potential flatmates, but are unable to bother Hugo in the slightest. This is most obvious when David tries to needle Hugo by asking him if he has ever killed someone: Hugo has a flashback to a murder he committed, but calmly denies it. The flatmates are completely unused to someone running rings around them, and don't pick up on the warning signs around him.
  • Slowly Slipping Into Evil: David.
  • Smarter Than You Look: Alex. "As smart as you are you're going to need some help".
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: Andy Williams doesn't exactly gel with the ending.
  • Terrible Interviewees Montage: Inverted when the three roommates interview potential lodgers. The interviewees are regular people, while the roommates take the opportunity to grill them with sadistic and bizarre questions and make them uncomfortable for no reason other than their own amusement. Simon Cowell could have been taking notes.
  • This Is a Drill: David threatens Alex with one, leaving a small bloody dot on his forehead.
  • Took a Level in Badass: David starts the film as a terribly meek and bookish accountant, until he's forced to chop up Hugo (see Freak Out above). He soon starts threatening strangers with violence, kills two murderous thugs who are looking for Hugo and tries to kill Alex.
  • Uncertain Doom: While Word of God confirms that Alex is still alive, getting impaled/pinned to the floor isn't exactly a rosy picture either since there's little way for the cops/medical personnel to get him off the floor without him bleeding to death.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: All three of them.
  • Villainous Breakdown: After discovering too late that the case she thinks contains the money only has shredded newspapers, Julie is seen absolutely freaking out in her car before staggering through an airport check-in with a look of dead-eyed blank despair on her face.
  • Visible Boom Mic: There's a boom mic reflected in the car window when Alex pushes Hugo's car into the lake.
  • Where the Hell Is Springfield?: The opening voiceover states that "this could have been any city," though wherever it is, it's apparently in Scotland. Word of God says it is set in Edinburgh. Though quite a bit of it was filmed in Glasgow.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Averted by David when he punches Juliet, played straight by Alex when he attacks David, yelling that he shouldn't have hit her.
  • You Didn't Ask: Inverted. Unlike their previous victims, Alex instantly told where the money is to the two thugs. The one beating him with a crowbar is somewhat shocked, if not disappointed, because he didn't even start asking questions and got the answer.