Shallow Grave is a British thriller of great assurance and fair accomplishment. The setting is a mixture of Edinburgh and Glasgow, the film thereby qualifying for a grant from the Scottish Film Production Fund, but the narrative values are bracingly American.
The writer, John Hodge, whose first script this is, may have had the Coen Brothers' Blood Simple in mind for this tale of greed and double-dealing, and the director, Danny Boyle, seems to allude to their Miller's Crossing in his opening sequence, which alternates speeded up images of the city with slow tracking shots of an empty wood.
The three main characters are Yuppies who share a desirable flat and are conducting interviews for another room-mate. Their space is certainly more covetable than their company. There are pointy green lampshades and masks decoratively displayed. It takes a little while for the camera to show us that the residents do not always live up to their surroundings. Juliet (Kerry Fox) has a weakness for Hello! magazine, and Alex (Ewan McGregor) is not wholly a stranger to the Pot Noodle. Only David (Christopher Eccleston), the accountant, is too buttoned up to show any such consumer weakness.
The successful applicant, Hugo, brings with him temptation and danger. Keith Allen, who plays the part, has bags of screen presence by now, and displays it even when naked and unmoving on a bed. The three must decide what to do with the opportunity he offers, and their lives are never the same again.
The director stages the consequences of the fatal decision with enough force for us to forget that we don't believe a word of it. The violence in the film, in particular, is briskly and harshly managed, without either half-heartedness or gloating. But a little further along, cogency starts falling apart for good.