"Shallow Grave"

June 2012

Shallow GraveMoney Powers a Downhill Thrill Ride

The Criterion Collection 616
Format: Blu-ray

Overall Enjoyment

Picture Quality

Sound Quality


In choosing scripts, director Danny Boyle has pursued several different paths, but one theme he returns to is money and what it does to those who acquire it. This idea drives Shallow Grave (1994), Boyle's impressive first film, and recurs in Millions (2004) and Slumdog Millionaire (2008). The latter two aren't nearly as nasty as the first, which is a jolt of adrenaline administered with glee. It's a nasty, taut, thriller with a literate script, flawless ensemble acting, breathless pacing, and spooky camera angles. I remember surrendering totally when I first saw it, saying to myself (and others) -- that director is one to watch. Shallow Grave blew me away then, and Danny Boyle is still a director to watch.

Shallow Grave focuses on three 20-something roommates living in a spacious apartment in Glasgow. Juliet Miller (Kerry Fox) is a doctor, David Stephens (Christopher Eccleston) is an accountant, and Alex Law (Ewan McGregor in an impressive feature-film debut) is a somewhat sleazy journalist. At the beginning of the film, the three interview prospects to fill a spot as their fourth roommate. The nod goes to Hugo (Keith Allen) who dies right after moving in, leaving behind a mysterious suitcase full of money, no doubt procured through illegal activities.

The three spend very little time before deciding to do the next wrong thing -- they'll chop Hugo up, bury him, and keep the money. This decision starts the ball rolling downhill for the hapless trio, but to tell more would be to spoil the suspense and fun. Shallow Grave is a cruel black comedy with terribly acerbic jokes. The most memorable occurs as Juliet begins to think she can't go through with butchering Hugo and Alex quips, "But you're a doctor, you kill people every day." The three roomies are not terribly nice people, but they're interesting and their actions, interactions, and antics will hold you in rapt attention until the very last frame.

As expected, Criterion has done a bang-up transfer for Shallow Grave, providing a rich and colorful picture that has the sharpest detail and a soundtrack that is clarity itself. It's no wonder that many folks tried to buy the apartment, not realizing that it was actually a set. It looks that coherent and appealing.

Director Boyle narrates one commentary track, and producer Andrew MacDonald and writer John Hodge handle the other. Both tracks are amiable, enthusiastic, informative, and well worth hearing. Other extras include interviews with the principal actors, a 1993 documentary on making the film, a video diary from the 1992 Edinburgh Film Festival, a trailer, and a written essay by critic Philip Kemp.

If you haven't seen Shallow Grave, put this Criterion edition on your "must see" list. If you've already seen it, you might very well have it at home already. It's one of those movies you can lose yourself in for many hours.

Be sure to watch for: As Hugo is going through the interview process, he's asked if he has killed anyone and we see a flashback to an ATM robbery in which someone was bludgeoned to death. We see it, though, from inside the ATM machine, with all the words on its screen properly backwards. Nowadays we know that these machines contain security cameras that film every transaction, but back then it was a novel idea to show the scene from this perspective.

. . . Rad Bennett

More SoundStage! Videos

  • Focal Shape 65 Active Speaker is a Winner for Both Audiophiles and Studios (Take 2, Ep:5)
  • Audio Research's 50th Anniversary Products, Celebration, and Future - SoundStage! Talks (July 2020)
  • Get Closer to Your Music with the HEDD Type 07 Active Speaker -- Literally. (Take 2, Ep:4) #AMTfi
  • Back to the
  • Details on the Bowers & Wilkins 700-Series Signature Speakers - SoundStage! Talks (June 2020)
  • Activities at Hi-Fi Super-Retailer Goodwin's High End - SoundStage! Talks (June 2020)
  • Totem Acoustic Skylight Speaker Review! Affordable Speakers with a Big Sound (Take 2, Ep:2)
  • The Long-Term Investment in a Bryston Amplifier - SoundStage! Talks (June 2020)
  • PMC and the Flagship Fenestria Loudspeaker - 2019 SoundStage! Product of the Year Winner (June 2020)
  • Hegel H120 Integrated Amplifier Review. Living With It for the Past 3 Months! (Take 2, Ep:1)
  • The Power, Purpose, and Appeal of Bluesound's Powernode 2i Amplifier - SoundStage! Talks (June 2020)
  • Buying Speakers for a Teenager - SoundStage! Talks (May 2020)
  • Buying Active, Powered, or Passive Speakers for the Studio - SoundStage! Encore (June 2020)
  • Focal's Speaker Driver-Cone Materials - SoundStage! Talks (May 2020)
  • Dutch & Dutch 8c Active Loudspeaker in Detail - SoundStage! InSight (June 2020)
  • Gryphon's Flagship CD Player and Yamaha's New Turntable in Australia - SoundStage! Talks (May 2020)
  • Gryphon's New Class-A Essence Amplifiers - SoundStage! Talks (May 2020)
  • Vivid Audio's Laurence Dickie, Designer of the B&W Nautilus - SoundStage! Icons (June 2020)
  • Rockport Speakers Now Come in Colors - SoundStage! Talks (May 2020)
  • Deep Inside Crystal Cable - SoundStage! InSight (May 2020)
  • High-Res and Multichannel for Music Playback - SoundStage! Encore (May 2020)
  • KEF's Dr. Jack Oclee-Brown on Speaker Design - SoundStage! Icons (May 2020)
  • Intro to Dutch & Dutch and the 8c Active Loudspeaker - SoundStage! InSight (April 2020)