Sawing Off Body Parts With Ewan - Shallow Grave 5/27

Ugh. It's been a bad weekend. First of all, I broke my lawnmower blade on the city water service buried in my front lawn. It must have worked it's way up above ground a couple of inches and this Friday was the day it was too high for my lawnmower to handle. Ke-runch.

After replacing the blade I headed downstairs to the Basement Workshop (the annex to the Basement Theatre) and discovered my water heater was leaking. Nice. Further diagnosis revealed the 12 year old heater was going to have to be put out to pasture and a replacement acquired. There's a $369 surprise expense (it's a 40 gallon natural gas version).

Then, in an effort to save money, my father and I tried to install it ourselves. Big mistake. I should have learned this already, but if you have a plumbing problem - call a plumber. We spent much time running back and forth to the hardware store picking up various lengths of pipe and fittings and spent about 10 hours (over two days - yep, we had no running water last night or this morning) installing the thing.

Right now we have both hot and cold running water (and flushable toilets!). And nothing, of course, could stop this week's Saturday Night Freak Show! Trixie Blowpop (my sister), Oblisk the Tormentor (her fiancee), and Laid-Off Schoolteacher (our mutal friend) joined Satanica Pandemonium (my wife) and myself for hamburgers and brats on the grill before proceeding into the aforementioned Basement Theatre for Danny Boyle's Shallow Grave.

In what seems to be a recurring theme in Boyle's movies (at least also in his newest flick, Millions) a group of people find a stash of money that changes their lives. In this case, it's Scottish flatmates Alex (Ewan MacGregor), Juliet (Kerry Fox) and David (Christopher Eccleston), who rent a room to the mysterious Hugo (Keith Allen). Their new tennant promptly dies of an overdose, leaving them to discover his suitcase full of money. After moral concerns are sufficiently dealt with, the three decide to keep the money and dispose of the body - a grisly task that comes down to sawing off Hugo's hands and feet and bashing his teeth in with a hammer. When the moment of truth comes all three prove squeamish, and it's David who draws the short straw and has to do the dismembering himself.

The experience drives a wedge between the trio; David grows more increasingly paranoid and eventually menacing; Juliet's uses both Alex and David for her best advantage; and sooner or later both Hugo's gangster friends and the police come calling.

Shallow Grave was Boyle's first theatrical film after a modest body of TV work. He would make Trainspotting next (which was produced with much of the same crew) and hit the big time, making stars out of himself and leading man MacGregor. MacGregor, then a relative unknown, is the real energy driving Shallow Grave - his Alex is funny, sarcastic, obnoxious and completely commands the screen whenever he's on. The film begins with an amusing series of vignettes in which the trio interviews (terrorizes?) unsuspecting would-be renters.

If there was a problem I had with the film it is with the ending, although I can't identify exactly what is wrong with it. Everything leads to a logical conclusion, and the three leads each gets what's coming to them, but I felt let down somehow as if the ending wasn't as big a finish as what was needed. A thriller with a pitch black sense of humor, Shallow Grave is worth seeking out.

As mentioned above, Boyle subsequently reteamed with MacGregor for Trainspotting and his first Hollywood fiasco, A Life Less Ordinary (with which I had a good time, despite its box office failure). He would trade up for fresh-from-Titanic superstar Leonardo DiCaprio for The Beach before two successive Hollywood disappointments drove him back to England and more modest budgets. There he made the revisionist zombie movie, 28 Days Later (again featuring Eccleston), and again hit international paydirt. Peter Mullan, who plays one of the gangsters, also appears in Trainspotting - and years later had a starring role in the criminally neglected horror movie Session 9.