Three housemates living in Edinburgh’s New Town share a cavernous penthouse Georgian tenement flat and rent out a room to Hugo. He’s a charming but mysterious man who dies almost straight away. Rummaging through his belongings, the housemates find a suitcase stuffed full of money.
After some deliberation they decide to keep the money and dispose of Hugo’s body. Soon both the police and a gang of criminals are closing in. The weight of their actions starts tearing them apart and the housemates are pitted against each other in a battle of morality, insanity, violence and greed.
Written by John Hodge, the script captures three smart, quick, and very distinct people. A quick word here and there tells us everything we need to know about what drives these characters. Their very different reactions to death, violence, and money help us to explore the moral themes of the film. But it also revels what they might be willing to do to get their own way.
Alex (Ewan McGregor) is hedonistic and seems like he’s always running on multiple cups of coffee. He works as a tabloid newspaper journalist and lacks in sentiment, empathy, or self-reflection. David (Christopher Eccleston) is an accountant; boring, downtrodden, dark and unhinged. And Juliet (Kerry Fox) is a doctor who is constantly harassed by ex-lovers. She’s cold, sensible, and practical, willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants.
The dynamics between them is neatly played out while discussing the dilemma before them; hide the body and take the money, or call the police and lose it all.
Juliet: No, Alex, It’s…
Alex: It’s what?
Alex: Oh is that all?
David: You mean immoral.
Juliet: I know what I mean.
Alex: Look I’m only asking you both to think about it.
David: It’s a sick idea, Alex, it’s sick.
Alex: Yeah, but don’t tell me you’re not tempted. Don’t tell me you’re not interested, I know you well enough.
David: Oh, you think so?
Here, Alex is making what he later refers to as a “material calculation”. David reveals a hidden side. And Juliet points out she would do whatever’s feasible, regardless of the morality.
The fateful night of body disposal is where the reality of the situation hits home. And it’s the touchpaper that sparks their journeys.
After disposing of the body in a particularly gruesome way (thanks in no small part to the sound of a saw squeaking through fresh bone), David is sent over the edge. Eccleston brilliantly tips the balance from socially awkward (but definitely not okay) accountant into full mental breakdown.
He literally ascends into power, taking up residence in the loft and peering down at his housemates from above. He yells instead of cowing, and meets problems with violence instead of avoiding conflict. He goes from treating death as a morbid and taboo curiosity to committing murder.
In contrast, Alex starts out as the least moral of the three. He’s a fast talking hedonist who cares only about money, wine and women. He’s a ringleader who taunts others around him for amusement. As this outer shell falls away we start to see something else. But it’s not really morality, as he still wants all of the money himself, and ends the film laughing next to a dead body in a pool of blood. It’s more of a shift into maturely outwitting an opponent instead of than belittling them.
The more calculating Juliet seems to stick with the feasibility aspect throughout. She evaluates every action and uses her sexuality to get what she wants. But ultimately when all this is undone she turns into a screaming violent monster when she can no longer scheme her way through.
So in the end did morality win? The unleashed monster was destroyed, the scheming greed unraveled and screaming, yet the winner was still laughing in the face of death. The ability to really see others (which comes with morality) didn’t get the upper hand, it was the ability to see through them.
At a succinct 89 minutes there are no quiet moments in this film. The intensity ratchets upwards with each scene towards the explosive ending. The dialogue is sharp and darkly funny, and it does what any great thriller should, put you on the edge of your seat.
Hi, I'm Caz. I live in Edinburgh and I watch a lot of films. My reviews focus mainly on women in film - female directors or how women are represented on screen.