1.11.2011

"I'm Not Frightened. A Little Terrified, Maybe."

SHALLOW GRAVE (1994)
The ultimate third date movie?
So this one has a bit of a back story. Every now and then, my girlfriend and I have "date night", in which we, like the cinematic junkies we are, pull a movie from the pile and cuddle up like good lesbians to watch it. We'd just done her choice of a James Marsden fest (who if you don't know him, you'd do well to get acquainted with, he's another one of those underrated actors that slips under the radar)--Gossip (2000) followed up by Enchanted (2007). Enchanted I appreciated since it was literally just an excuse to get the handsome Marsden to act completely ridiculous for an hour and half, but Gossip lit up my imagination. I'm not going to go into too much detail, except to say that it's a story about three roommates (James Marsden plus Lena Headey and Normal Reedus, two very under-appreciated yet always brilliant actors) who decide to start up a little strain of gossip as a class project, but end up getting themselves involved in a twisted bit of lies, manipulation, and rape. You can also watch it instantly on netflix if you have the netflix power.

When was the last time you heard these exact words:
"You are the sunshine of my life?"
The three-roommates-getting-themselves-in-shit plot line immediately reminded me of a little gem I'd seen a while back--you guessed it, Shallow Grave. So, for our next date night, I suggested we watch Shallow Grave. Dudes and dykes, a tip: there's scary movies, and then there's traumatizing movies. Scary movies make a great date night. Pop in Paranormal Activity (2007) and you'll have your lovely lady clinging to you the entire night. However, pop in The Human Centipede (2010) and you might as well make yourself at home on the couch. 

I for one forgot how fucking traumatizing Shallow Grave is. I should've expect it, really. It's Danny Boyle's first movie that wasn't made-for-TV, and we know him as the father of such uplifting movies such as Trainspotting (1996). However, no baby crawling up the ceiling can really prepare you for Shallow Grave. The plot is simple enough: three friends, Alex Law (Ewan McGregor), David (Christopher Eccleston, waaaaaay before Dr. Who), and Juliet (Kerry Fox) find their new flat mate dead in his room with a suitcase of money. And they decide to do the right thing: hand it over to the police. Draw curtains. Wasn't that a good movie? If only. Instead, they do what every film character who has ever found a suitcase full of money does: take it for themselves. However, what makes this movie different is the devastating reality of it all. The characters feel real, the situation feels real, and there is little more terrifying than watching humanity disintegrate. In many ways, I'm glad this is Danny Boyle's first movie. It's a little low budget, darkly filmed, very, very basic. And it's because there are no fancy CGI images or ultra-cinematic polishing of the images that it feels so gritty and real. 

Practicing for I Love You, Philip Morris?
The thing is, Danny Boyle sets the stage perfectly. They're just kids, ridiculous fucking kids, who want a lot of money so they can blow it on expensive camera equipment, lots of alcohol, and a couple of fancy dresses for Alex to crossdress in. And then of course, there's David. Mr. Debbie Downer. Who didn't want anything to do with this in the first place, but ended up being the one who had to saw off the dead man's hands and feet and smash his face in. I can't image what he's so upset about. And thus begins David's spiral into insanity as he hides the suitcase of money in the attic and lives there, protecting it from his roommates and anyone else who might come after it. Like the two mobsters who kill everyone in between them and the suitcase, or the detective who stumbles across the dead body and haunts the flat.

The deaths are definitely the most horrific parts of the whole movie. That seems a bit obvious, but...normally, seeing characters murdered doesn't really rub me the wrong way. It's movies, it's fun. However, there's just something about the way it's filmed that really sucks you in...so when one man gets shoved in an ice box with cement bags holding down the lid, you feel the suffocating horror of being there with him. It's so visceral the only thing I can compare it to is The Bride's initial reaction to being shoved in a coffin and buried 6 feet under. Tell me you weren't holding your breath the first time you saw that. And then there are the little subtle details. The sound of feet pattering against the ceiling as David paces back and forth in his attic cave, the way the light bleeds in the from his floorboards, the Cabbage Patch whateverthefuck baby crawling mechanically across the floor. Subtle little details that really make the movie the psychological mindfuck of an experience it is. 

As for the acting, it's genius. In my opinion, it's one of Ewan McGregor's better roles, as he gets to get a little outside of his "nice guy" image and plays something of a manic prick. Plus, it's the best mane of his career. Eccleston is brilliant; he's subtle, and we fluctuate constantly with sympathizing with him and being completely terrified of him. Kerry Fox I thought occasionally left some to be desired, but that was sort of who her character was--a semi-decent actress playing the stage of life who got by with a little manipulation and charm. Plus, her character herself was great, Juliet wasn't the temptress per se, but instead matched Alex's competitive streak and worked well to balance the two men of the house. She was untrustworthy, yet foxy enough in that British sort of way that we forgave her. And she has a great final scene of pure panic, and pulls it off brilliantly. And if anyone was looking for a movie that show cases Ewan McGregor's ability to sound like he's actually in a shit ton of pain with his groans and pathetic little squeaky noises, this is it. 

The thing about this movie is that it's fucking brilliant. It hooks you in, right away, and makes you care about these characters, even if they're all kind of assholes. But the script is so good, that even when they are assholes--such as Alex's multiple digs at poor Cameron--you can't help but laugh along with them; the many comedic lines lift the heaviness of the actual film here and there, making it one of those movies you laugh and cry at simultaneously. It mindfucks you into oblivion with them, and just when you think it couldn't get any more clever, the twist at the ending is so fucking satisfying that instead of telling you what it is and ruining the movie, I'll leave you with this image:


And they all lived happily ever after. 

11 comments:

  1. This Dyke's GirlfriendJanuary 12, 2011 at 9:08 AM

    For all you readers out there, here's how THIS date night went. Approximately fifteen minutes into the film, I was sufficiently disturbed (which actually takes a lot...don't let my enjoyment of Enchanted fool you -- I'm actually a total gore-whore), my girlfriend was apologizing profusely for introducing this piece of cinematic mind-fuckery into my life, and ENCOURAGING that I find a Disney movie for us to watch together. Yeah. Save this one for the Boy's Night, fellas.

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  2. Everything the Girlfriend says is entirely true. That's right. I encouraged a Disney movie.

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  3. I'm expecting a review of Enchanted for my birthday. I'm just saying.

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  4. I...have no clever response for that. Though I wish I did. I wish I did.

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  5. I agree - I just watched "I love you Philip Morris" this weekend and had the sudden need to rewatch Shallow Grave (and google pictures of Alex in a dress....which is how I found this page), for all the reasons you mention. I'm not a scary movie kind of person. I don't like gore or dead bodies....but this movie just kind of sticks.

    Again, great review - it's dead on.

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  6. HA! Alex is a dress is definitely what this movie is all about. And "I Love You Philip Morris" is way too happy--between that movie and this, it's easy to see Ewan McGregor's range. Whether or not you like scary movies, this movie definitely stays with it. It's scary and human.

    Thanks for the great moment! I'm glad you stumbled upon this and checked it out!

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  7. The acting is top notch, especially Ewan in his first major movie role. One of the superb movie that I ever love watching. It was really great experience of seeing it.

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  8. I agree! For a first major role, Ewan definitely chose a good one and really blew it away. I really do love this movie, glad to see others enjoy it too! Thanks for commenting!

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  9. I was just depressed by the ending... But, yes, this is an INTENSE movie. It's good, but I probably won't be able to watch it again... or at least not the last ten minutes or so of it up until the little voice-over near the very end (I can watch the voice-over, but not the bit before it. Not due to the imagery, but due to the events... if that makes sense without giving too much away.)... even that's sad, though.

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  10. I can feel that! To me, the ending was so SATISFYING I had a hard time being depressed about it. At the end of the day, it's a black comedy downer. Thanks for the comment!

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