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‘Shallow Grave’ (R)

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
February 24, 1995

Initially, "Shallow Grave," British filmmaker Danny Boyle's mostly passable thriller about the trio of Glasgow flat-mates, looks as if it might succeed merely on the obnoxiousness and impudence of its main characters.

At the beginning of the film, Juliet (Kerry Fox), David (Christopher Eccleston) and Alex (Ewan McGregor) are in the process of interviewing candidates for their extra room, and from the probing brutality of the questions, it seems their real purpose is to demean and embarrass the applicants. Once these brats find someone "hip" enough to share their space, the new guy moves in, shoves his suitcase under the bed and promptly drops dead from a drug overdose.

The shock here comes not simply from the splayed nude body of the man on his deathbed, but also from the coolness of the roommates' response. They know almost nothing about their new family member, so they check his suitcase for identification and discover that it's stuffed full of money -- more money than any of them has ever seen.

For Alex, the question of whether they should keep the dough is a simple one: This is found money, money from heaven, and they would be fools to pass up a chance to live the life of their dreams. It's easy; all they have to do is ditch the body -- cutting off the corpse's hands and feet to eliminate finger- and footprints, and destroying its jaw to foil the use of dental records -- and the money is theirs. For equally obvious reasons, David and Juliet aren't so keen on the idea. But after allowing the body to lie around for a day or so, Juliet starts to come around. And once she agrees, David joins in too.

At this point, the noose of Boyle and screenwriter John Hodge's story should tighten, but instead the movie seems to slacken and lose shape. After the actual disposal of the body is accomplished, paranoia and fear start to consume the group. When a couple of thugs arrive to claim the missing money, the price of their actions becomes clearer. In response, David, who until now had been the most reluctant participant, goes semi-berserk, barricading himself in the attic, where the money is hidden.

As it turns out, he has as much to fear from his so-called friends as he does from outsiders. The problem, though, is that these developments seem altogether too routine to keep the movie together.

Boyle, who has an impressive reputation for his work on British television, has a lithe, energetic style, and he keeps the picture moving at a brisk clip. His characters, too, are young and fresh and promisingly rude -- especially McGregor's Alex -- but they become less and less interesting as the movie progresses. By its conclusion, just about everything intriguing in the film has evaporated.

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