Seven (or Se7en, as it is frequently referred to) is nearly 26 years old this year and remains one of the darkest and brilliant detective films ever made. David Fincher’s 1995 Gen-X noir took a scalpel blade to the detective genre and opened wounds that are still bleeding even now, influencing every cop show and crime movie with its rusty style and body horror themes. Despite the passage of time and the numerous imitators, Seven remains a reminder of how dark Hollywood can be when it wants to be.
I believe it is impossible to properly convey the seismic impact that David Fincher’s breakthrough occult thriller Se7en had on the cinema industry in 1995.
The story of detectives Mills and Somerset, played by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, and their hunt for serial killer John Doe is a modern-day classic. Take this as a spoiler alert, but the seven deadly sins have never looked so lethal before. This is why…
Screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker crafted a great amount of investigative dialogue that seemed both like the typical jousting of strong personalities and newly specific to these characters, sandwiched between the quizzical philosophy and introduction to religious literature. This aspect is critical to the film’s re-watchability because it not only entertains but also speaks to the nature of the film’s focus: Mills (Pitt) and Somerset’s connection (Morgan Freeman).
It also aids in the imprinting of the environment on our minds, forcing us to experience the world through Somerset’s eyes. The cops talk about violence and gore incessantly, criminals despise what they do but can’t seem to break free from their cycle, and everyone is responsible for their own fate.
Se7en’s raw density, like the blueprints for a perfect haunted house, requires multiple viewings. The fingerprints of the Sloth victim spelling out “Help me” at the Greed crime scene are an example of how important puzzle pieces fit together in unexpected ways. In most other mysteries, this might result in a dead-end, a cold case victim, or another dead body with little or no relevance to the overall theme. Instead, you’re dealing with a suspect with a criminal history and a strict religious upbringing. While we see the situation as a false herring, the fingerprints lead us to a victim who shares the killer’s characteristics.
You’ll also notice that problems are often solved fast. We’re given just enough information as we go along – and the nature of the crimes is so awful – that we’re satisfied, and Mills and Somerset come out looking intelligent when procedural problems require a shortcut. From a structural sense, it’s a win-win, and we won’t have to waste time on exposition.
What’s in the Box?
Praise be to Fincher and Pitt, as well as anyone else who insisted on keeping the perfect ending. It has a powerful impact, but it is more than a strong tragedy. It’s a story that must inevitably reach its logical conclusion. Everything in the film is so well-crafted (Mills’ rage, the need for an attention-getting conclusion, the two final sins), that anything less would have been a cop-out.
Thankfully, we got the ending that the story deserved, and it does the lion’s share of ensuring that we remember this film for all the wrong reasons. The film’s finale is unforgettable, elevating an already excellent film to legendary status.
There was a period before Se7en when movies were filled with images of sunlight, rainbows, and puppies. It wasn’t all that horrible, but David Fincher’s groundbreaking film revolutionized the way Hollywood thrillers were made. As the serial killer genre earned a fresh lease on life, a dark, gloomy, and gothic style became chic all of a sudden.
Fincher’s classic was referenced in Kiss The Girls, Frailty, The Bone Collector, The Devil’s Advocate, From Hell, Fallen, 8MM, and End of Days.
However, none of them were able to surpass it, and no one will be able to do so in the future.