Clever direction makes 'Shallow Grave' great

By Doug Cummings

Arizona Daily Wildcat

So many movies are uninspired to the level of being comatose. They appear to have been slapped together by cliches from last year's successes, filmed by-the-numbers, and simply marketed into existence. But every once in a while, a flash of creativity appears, a movie that's alive from the word "go." "Shallow Grave," a recent release from Scotland, is such a movie, a frenetic film that jumps with cleverness.

From its opening shots of fast-motion traffic in Edinburgh to its experiments with time depiction, showing one scene but using dialogue from another, "Shallow Grave" is a movie that is perpetually creative and happily animated.

It tells the story of three friends, David (Christopher Eccleston), Alex (Ewan McGregor) and Juliet (Kerry Fox), who live in a spacious and garishly-colored apartment overlooking Scotland's capitol. They are eccentric, opinionated, and content, but their new roommate, Hugo (Keith Allen), presents a problem. They find Hugo dead in his room with a suitcase full of money. After some deliberation, they decide to dispose of the body and keep the money, but their decision will haunt them with guilt, violence, and impending insanity.

To call the movie a black comedy would be a slight exaggeration, as there is little humor to offset its ghastliness. But humor does find ways of sneaking in here and there through the spirited camera work and editing, the friendly buffoonery between the characters, and an occasional line like, "Why don't we just throw [the body] in the river like any normal human being?"

The apartment itself is a study in primary colors. Blue walls, yellow doors, a red phone. Their lavish flat testifies to their higher income bracketÄone roommate is a reporter, one is a doctor, and the other is an accountant. The apartment is their universe and Hugo's death and their fervent greed shatter its emotional sanctuary. David begins living in the attic and the relationship between the characters becomes taught with bitterness and distrust.

The film is director Danny Boyle's (the BBC's "Mr. Wroe's Virgins") first feature film after working extensively for British television and the theater. His eye for acute compositions and the wide-screen format, placing characters on the far edges of the frame, belies his experience and gives the film a sharp visual edge. Frequently, he inserts unexpected imagery, like flashbacks and parallel narratives, into the main narrative and challenges traditional notions of continuity.

The residents' friendship is the focus of the film, and the movie shows how greed can come into relationships and ruin them. But "Shallow Grave" isn't as concerned with developing a cohesive moral as it is in simply surprising its audience. It's weird in a David Lynch sort of way: shockingly presenting the bizarre as it slowly takes over everyday life.

"Shallow Grave" is showing at Catalina Cinemas, 881-0616.

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