* * 1/2
Location: Magic Lantern Cinemas
Credits: Directed by Danny Boyle, starring Kerry Fox, Christopher Eccleston and Ewan McGregor
Running time: 1:32
Imagine that you live with two roommates in a spacious, downtown apartment. You’re all professionals (doctor, stock broker, journalist), well-educated with a shared sense of humor.
But there’s a problem. The flat has four bedrooms, and you’re looking for a fourth roommate. It can’t be, however, just any roommate.
He, or she, has to fit in.
So you advertise. Then you interview. And, fitting in with your irreverent view of life, you make those interviews more than just mere auditions.
You make them entertainments. You get along, you three, and anyone who doesn’t fit in ends up plucked to pieces.
Finally, though, you find the right person. He moves in. And then, before you even know it, something unexpected, something terrible, occurs.
Taken aback at first, you gradually recover your balance. You try to cope, and you begin to believe that you can. But then things start to get truly weird. Real life begins to intrude on your little living playground, and just like that what seemed to be so much fun has become a struggle.
That, in general terms, is the outline for a clever little thriller from Scotland called “Shallow Grave.” Being any more specific would just take away from one of the film’s only true joys: experiencing the unexpected.
The other main attraction is director Danny Boyle’s manipulation of the picture frame. From the opening shots taken from the hood of a car racing fast-forward through city streets, to shots of a man scuttling like a crab over the rafters of a darkened attic, to several incidents of sudden and graphic violence, Boyle at least makes “Shallow Grave” fun to watch.
Then, too, the acting is just what it needs to be, which is to be expected with an experienced cast. Kerry Fox, who plays the doctor, is best-known for her role in “An Angel at My Table.” Christopher Eccleston, the broker, shared the lead in “Let Him Have It.” Ewan McGregor, the journalist, has been featured in several BBC productions.
Beyond those strengths, though, “Shallow Grave” doesn’t add up to much. The screenplay, by John Hodge, indulges in clever dialogue, and its basis is the sort of what-if type of situation that we all tend to fantasize about (what if, say, I found a suitcase full of cash?).
But Hodge doesn’t give us anyone to root for. Each of these characters may deserve sympathy, but it’s hard to feel that way once the knives start cleaving limbs.
To be fair, “Shallow Grave” clearly isn’t meant to be high art.
And that’s good. Because it isn’t even “Pulp Fiction.”
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: OTHER VIEWS Here’s what other critics say about “Shallow Grave”: Rene Rodriguez/Miami Herald: First-time director Danny Boyle has an effortless knack for mixing comedy with genuine terror, and “Shallow Grave” is as funny as it is horrific. Joe Baltake/McClatchy News Service: Danny Boyle’s “Shallow Grave” is like one of those people you’d like to hate - smart, clever, smug, self-satisfied, casually mean-spirited and glib - but can’t because they manage to pull it all off with such panache. The British movie, filmed in Scotland, fairly drips with an aloof, indifferent attitude that constantly pulls you in no matter how much you resist. It’s ALL attitude, wrapped in a handsome package. It’s like an attractive sociopath who makes great company. Hal Hinson/The Washington Post: By its conclusion, just about everything intriguing in the film has evaporated.