Never rob your own grave

Newcomers steal from their elders, a veteran cannibalises himself. Adam Mars-Jones knows where the bodies are buried. Plus round-up

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 bracin gly 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 seq uence,which alternates speeded up images of the city with slow tracking shots of an ominously empty wood.

The three main characters are Yuppies who share a desirable flat and are conducting interviews - more like auditions, really - for another room-mate. They are two men and a woman, and there is a certain amount of romantic tension between them, but this is not Jules and Jim. In fact, they are quite startlingly unpleasant, and it is perhaps not a good idea to start the film with scenes where they systematically humiliate the applicants for the room. We are much more likely to identify with the victims onthe sofa than with the smugly cruel residents, who seem to think it would be a great privilege for anyone to be allowed to share their space.

Their space is certainly more covetable than their company. There are pointy green lampshades and masks decoratively displayed. There is a stylish chair even in the bathroom. It takes a little while for the camera to show us that the residents do not always live up to their surroundings, in a way that might strike you as endearing if you were their mother or a saint. 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, wrapped in fabric of the colour called Caravaggio red in paintings but which looks more like Jarman red in a film. The three must decide what to do with the opportunity he offers, and their lives are never the same again.

If only John Hodge had been able to make us believe in their decision, Shallow Grave would be an implacable little construction. As it is, the film is a thumbscrew with no screw, an Iron Maiden with no lid. It seems simply absurd that no one at any stagesays: "Why don't we do A - which we all desire - without doing B, which will leave us with blood under our fingernails and memories we can never shake off?"

They're in a great hurry to embrace the fate that the script has in store for them.

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 for seconds and even minutes at a time. The violence in the film, in particular, is briskly and harshly managed, without eit h er half-heartedness or gloating. But a little further along, cogency starts falling apart for good. Unfollowable trails become obvious from one moment to the next, and the police too are transformed from bumbling goons to masters of logical thought. Audi ences for a thriller are essentially sheep, very willing to be herded into the appropriate pen of narrative and emotion, but the best way to get them there is not actually to run at them flapping your hands. And that is why we pay successful sheepdogssu ch notoriously high fees for their work.

Meanwhile in Hollywood, Wes Craven has come up, as a 10th anniversary present for us or more likely himself, with Wes Craven's New Nightmare. In this highly self referential exercise, Heather Langenkamp, star of the first Nightmare on Elm Street and these days bearing a pleasing resemblance to our own Koo Stark, plays sort-of herself. She's a mother now, and anxious about the effects of horror films on the young, so she is trying to put her Nightmare period behind her - which doesn't stop her f r om getting menacing phone calls from someone claiming to be Freddy Krueger, old Razor Knuckles himself.

Craven wrote and directed only the first of the Nightmare series, and seems to think that a noble thing has been progressively debased. This New Nightmare is his attempt to reformulate an old hit without simply repeating it. But in fact what made the original film so successful, and so influential, was that with its wild basic situation (bogie man chases young folk in their dreams, and if he catches them before they wake up they really die) it licensed any amount of trashy surprises. The lo g ics of plot and character have never been overwhelmingly rigorous in horror films, but now they could submit altogether to the logic of dream. There was nothing new about the Chinese-box narrative structure, except that it wasn't necessary any more to cl ose any of the boxes. This refusal to return to a previous level of reality was once the hallmark of the avant-garde, so in a sense the first Nightmare was the Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie of slasher movies. But even before the sequels, the film wa s alreadybeginning to fall victim, with its mechanical alternation of suburban tedium and grotesque gore, to the law of diminishing returns.

Craven puts in a cameo appearance of considerable awkwardness, wandering round a luxurious apartment that (presumably) Freddy built with views of the huge swimming pool that Freddy likewise dug, and theorising inanely about horror in life and in art. ("When the story dies, the evil gets free . . .") He is writing the script of the film that we're seeing, including the scene in which he shows us the script - Pirandello or what? The only way Heather can exorcise Freddy is by playing the part of "Nancy" again, luring him back into fiction. She must make the supreme sacrifice of submitting to typecasting.

So what we get in practice is a sort of compilation of Freddy's greatest hits. His trademark glove of straight razors has been redesigned to seem more like a predator's talons, but they still make the same unreassuring noise when scraped along brick. Remember the marshmallow stares from that first Nightmare? The twizzle-like extending arms? The invisibly impaled bodies being dragged up walls and across ceilings? They're all here for your pleasure.

The dialogue is just bad enough ("What's going on here? Your hair's turning grey") to suggest an element of self-parody.

There's a television news announcement about mutilated bodies being discovered in a vacant field that may linger in the mind longer than anything else in the film. What the hell is a vacant field? And there is a line spoken by a morgue attendant that cansafely be nominated for Daffiest Speech of the Year, even this early in 1995: "Sometimes it's what we don't see that gets us through the night."

n All films open tomorrow

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable