moviebuff801: Se7en (1995) Review

Posted: July 7, 2013 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Release Date: September 22nd, 1995

Running Time: 2 hours and 7 minutes

Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker

Directed by: David Fincher

Starring: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, R. Lee Ermey

The scariest stories, whether they be in film or literature, are often the ones that leave most of the horrors to our imaginations and instead show us just enough to disturb, rather than frighten.  As we all know, nothing is scarier the nightmares which lurk in the shadows and burrow their way into the areas of our minds which make simple noises like creaks and moans the most unnerving things in the world.  That is exactly the approach David Fincher chose to take when directing Se7en, a horror thriller that’s scary more in its psychology and the way in which it presents it than the end results of that psychology.  Not that these acts of violence aren’t effectively unsettling — they are — but Fincher and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker maintain that balance remarkably.  Not only is Se7en one of my Ten All-Time Favorite Films, it’s also the best horror film I’ve ever seen.

Se7en takes place over the course of (what else?) seven days and begins with the familiar trope most other cop movies do: a hotshot young detective named David Mills (Brad Pitt) has been transferred to New York and is shadowing the more experienced Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman), who is on the cusp of retirement.  On their first day together, Mills and Somerset are assigned a gruesome murder case in which the victim was forced to quite literally eat to death.  At first, it’s ruled as just a particularly bizarre murder with no real significance other than the mark of a really depraved individual, but when Somerset discovers the word “Gluttony” carved into the wall at the crime scene, he believes it to be the first in a forthcoming series of murders; he’s right, and each murder is more twisted and disturbing than the last.  Each murder, though, is part of a pattern: they’re all inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins, and with every new crime scene, it becomes clearer to Mills and Somerset that the killer they’re tracking is one with enormous intellect and no empathy whatsoever.  During the course of this investigation, that same killer, through his unspeakable actions, will force Mills and Somerset to not only be pushed to their limits, but also forced to confront their views on the world, which are at conflict with one another.

I know, it all sounds like your standard formula for an equally standard cop movie, but it is not.  In the best way possible, Se7en is pretty un-Hollywood.  First of all, the entire atmosphere and tone of this film are incredibly dark, in story, theme and aesthetic, right down to the line that closes the film.  Such a tone works for it, given the points that David Fincher and Andrew Kevin Walker want to make.  Se7en has to be commended, in that regard, for being so uncompromising because you just know that in the hands of a less-accomplished or confident team, this film most likely wouldn’t be as strong or leave as lasting an impression.  Instead of merely recycling the typical serial killer storyline, Se7en uses it as a way to examine the darkest corners of human behavior and psychology, and then personifies it in the form of the killer in the Third Act.  It’s a bold and disturbing portrait, to be sure, and the film makes no apologies.  Another thing Se7en deserves to be commended for is reinvigorating the cop procedural drama in a way that many other movies and T.V. shows have tried to emulate since, but very few, if any, with as much success.

Just as strong as the film’s atmosphere and themes are its performances.  Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman each give performances here that are easily among their best while simultaneously breathing great life into the tired cop partners routine.  Then again, it’s not really written that way.  Even if the two are at odds to begin with, it’s much more deftly handled, and the performances touch on such conflict with a bit more subtlety and class than we’re used to.  More importantly, though, Mills and Somerset are written as real characters, and not archetypes controlled by the plot.  Pitt’s ability to sell this is especially impressive when considering this was one of his first major roles.  On top of these two, there’s the part of John Doe, the killer.  It’s a role that was kept shrouded in mystery when Se7en was first released, and for those who haven’t seen this movie yet, I’ll keep that mystery going by not saying which actor portrays it.  Suffice it to say, though, this actor gives a phenomenal performance with such little screentime, and he really sticks in your memory long after the film is over.  This actor really gets you inside John Doe’s mind, presenting his rationale with so much detail, it’s disturbing.

On the subject of disturbing, let’s move on to the violence in Se7en, which has earned quite a reputation, and it gets back to what I said at the beginning about Fincher and Walker getting more chills out of the idea of it all.  As much as you hear about this movie’s violence, we never actually see any of it in progress, just the gruesome aftermath and that is just as disturbing, if not more so.  To me, the murders that stand out as the most unsettling are the ones for Lust and Sloth because as scary as the other ones are to imagine, those two truly highlight the depravity of John Doe.  They also tie in to the idea that what our minds picture can often be scarier than what we actually witness.

The murders that stand out the most, though, when thinking back on this picture are the two that close the film.  Again, I’m not going to spoil anything, but I will say that they contribute to what is easily my favorite ending to any movie ever, as bleak as it is.  It’s also bold, original and powerful, driving home the dark nature of the film through the use of a “simple” object and a chilling question.

In a time when excessive blood and guts is considered scary, Se7en still reigns supreme as the prime example of horror.  It’s a film that’s scary not just in what’s on-screen, but what isn’t on-screen and it never misses a beat no matter how many times you watch it.  It’s everything a horror movie should be, and then some.

****/****

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