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Seven (Widescreen) (1995)

Mystery & Suspense movie directed by David Fincher

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Another December review--another haypenny opinion of a well covered favorite

  • Dec 19, 2007
Rating:
+5
Pros: Story, acting, setting, pacing, not much wrong

Cons: The way the murders "work" is questionable

The Bottom Line: A must for thriller lovers, avoid if you are easily scared.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals everything about the movie''s plot.

First, the analysis is long—very long. If you have seen the film and want my take on it; read on. If you have not seen it, then you may want to scan the section above the spoiler or opt for a different review.

Se7en is the only movie that has scared me since I was 10 (this means that I went 17 years without being scared by a film. It still scares me today more than 10 years later. Therefore to put it bluntly, it is the scariest movie I have ever seen—in fact, it nearly got me and at least one other person killed (jump past the plot spoilers if you want to know the details).

Detective Mills (Brad Pitt) shows up for his first day in the homicide division of a major but unnamed city. He is replacing Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman). Simple enough. Of course there are going to be some difficulties in personalities because a young buck, eager but inexperienced in the city—his former beat was in the suburbs—has to pick up the load of a long term, cynical detective who has no idea why someone would volunteer for the job he is leaving.

Their first homicide is not part of the plot except to show that Somerset is a thinker and Mills is someone who prefers action to pondering. The next murder is what sets the relationship between the two. An extremely overweight shut-in is found bound with his face in a bowl of spaghetti. Again, Somerset sets the tone and Mills tries to resist. Again, Mills loses. Following this the detectives discover that what killed the man was a kick to the belly that caused a fatal rupture.

Somerset senses this is something far too long to be his last case and too rough to be Mills’s first. They both plead their case to the captain (R. Lee Ermy); there is some wrangling but Somerset is not reassigned and Mills is.

The day following the shut-in’s murder police find a high powered defense attorney killed by bleeding to death. On the carpet, in his own blood, the killer wrote the word “Greed.” Then the captain drops off a vial containing some pieces of what look like plastic saying that the coroner found them in the shut-ins stomach. This evidence leads him back to the original murder scene. The vial contained pieces of linoleum scratched from the floor in front of the refrigerator. Behind it Somerset finds a piece of paper under the word “Gluttony” written in grease.

Somerset lists the remaining 5 deadly sins: envy, lust, pride, sloth, wrath (in alphabetical order). He continues to insist he doesn’t want the case because they can expect 5 more murders. This would continue except that Tracy Mills (Gwyneth Paltrow) insists he come over for dinner. This allows both cops to let their guard down and for the experienced investigator begin to help the tyro up the ladder.

There is no other place to mention him. The police do not give the killer a name as in most other serial killer flicks; he is just John Doe (Kevin Spacey—the first role I saw him in where I truly felt what he can bring to any character.) (It is also worth noting that David Fincher directed Se7en and Zodiac  where the serial killer did have a moniker—I much prefer the former.)

To say any more about the plot would give far too much away. The story is probably well known, but, as I said above, the December rush for cash has allowed (even encouraged) me to opine about items I would normally have ignored because they are already heavily reviewed.

Let’s face it, Se7en is not an open ended murder movie; it has a definite end; however, what makes it work is the acting certainly, but the cinematography and set designs create a mood better than any other movie in the thriller/horror genre than I can think of (admittedly in a fairly short amount of time—still when talking movies, this is the one I use as the example of how the presentation of the film can be as important as what goes on within it). Whatever town this is, we see it in monsoon season for well more than half the film. This alone makes the movie claustrophobic—the instinct to pull inward to avoid rain, especially cold rain, is intense when watching it alone, but when in a theater, it is nearly overwhelming.

The whole town is dingy, gray and sepia, colors of age and illness. This carries over into the police station, Somerset’s apartment, the Mills’ apartment, John Doe’s apartment and apartment building, and the location of at least three murders make you want to pull in even harder. Se7en is hands down the most claustrophobic movie I have ever seen and I let myself sit through Cube.

Oddly, at least to me, the lighting is perfect—since it is so dark, you are forced to focus more closely, which means you are in a better position not to be caught off guard (the stock and trade for most scary flicks) but to be horrified by what is coming out of the dark directly in front of you.

The film should scare the hell out of anyone who sees it, but this isn’t your teenager’s Oldsmobile (if you will allow me that), if it were just one more scary movie, I wouldn’t bother writing about it—especially since so many have come before. I recommend it without reservation. That should suffice, but for a film that has been out more than 10 years, a little analysis is . . . required? I can’t stop myself so here is my inevitable


Plot spoilers below

The main question here is: does this film work? I get as many yeses as nos, but not that many in between. Se7en apparently demands a binary answer. I don’t have a solid answer, just several other questions (for which I believe I have answers). As for my opinion, yes it works, not like a Roadster but still reliable and fast enough.

I’m going to go from murder to murder and link them together. This seems to be the weak spot for those who think the movie fails.

Greed starts the true action. If not for “Greed” in blood, Somerset wouldn’t have had a reason to return to the shut-in murder. Once you get to the third murder it is possible that you pull the perfect-vision hindsight and see a string of coincidences. The mind makes patterns, so this is reasonable, but I think incorrect here.

What if the detectives, or at least one of them, weren’t clever enough to figure out they needed to go back to the original scene? At this point Doe would either have to wait or he would have to kill at least one more attorney or grossly overweight person to get the cops to notice. Remember this is a man on a mission, why would he stop at just one person per sin? Since both killer and cop are clever . . . this becomes a game instead of just a chase.

Greed is a straight forward kill yourself or I will kill you sort of thing. In most films of this kind, the writer, director or both use this as a, if not the moment of suspense. Instead we get a crime scene that is designed to go back to the first and forward to the third murders.

It takes a bit of time to arrive at a conclusion (Somerset stays on to see this set of killings through or stop the killer before the end; he knows they will not be able to do this—he is too much of a cynic and realist to believe they will stop him). This is the first of three problems I have.

The wife of the slain attorney is held in a safe house. The detectives go to see her because there is a picture of her with her eyes starkly circled at the crime scene. Over emoting to the extreme, the woman points to a piece of what I call decorative art (no real meaning, not by a noted artist, just something that looks good where it is)—she says that it is upside down. This coincidence is as hard to swallow as the frosted mini-wheats I’m snacking on now.

Nothing in or behind the painting reveals anything. But dusting for fingerprints, they discover the simple sentence: help me.

Sloth presents a few sub problems for me and serious problems for those who believe the film fails (it also contains the scene that nearly got me killed). First, this sin doesn’t have a dead body—the unfortunate person has been kept barely alive for a very long time, so we don’t see the actual death. There is no denying death will occur, but there is no corpse to habeas. This also contains the second coincidence; they find the sloth victim a year to the day after his disintegration began. I despise this. I think David Fincher added this to show how clever John Doe is, but we already know that, so this little piece of storytelling is very sloppy.

The not yet dead body is in the hospital and Mills and Somerset want to interview him and this leads to a little gem of a statement that will always haunt me: “Even if his brain was not mush, which it is, he chewed off his tongue long ago . . . He would die of the shock if you shined a flashlight in his eyes. He’s experienced about as much pain and suffering as anyone I’ve ever encountered, give or take, and he still has Hell to look forward to.” That last little clause is the last facet of this little vicious gem.

After this, using illegal means that aren’t illegal today, the detectives present a list of library books to someone in the FBI who gives them a name based on the reading habits of the man they seek. Then they find the apartment. It is pretty obvious that Mr. Doe wasn’t expecting this. A chase scene follows that leaves Mills in a very compromising position with a barrel of a gun against his head. All he says is “no” and Doe is off. Why spare him? The answer to this is clear: Mills is integral to Doe’s game; Mills and Somerset are the thoughtful and action driven pair he needed to make the game work. Again,Doe would have continued to kill based on sins until at least one detective was clever enough to play his role in Doe’s play.

Since Doe didn’t expect the police to be in his home. He realizes he is going to have to commit the last four murders in a hurry.

Lust and pride follow nearly on top of each other. There is nothing special about the murders, but each one has a call back to the second and third murders (economy of imagery or metaphor—the rest of the movie does this, but not in a truly consistent way; these are just the obvious, though not heavy handed).

Pride is very much like greed murder because it is, let’s say assisted suicide. The victim, someone who is either proud of or has enough money to pay for beauty. A phone is glued to one hand, sleeping pills to the other. Call for help and be marred or take the pills and be done with it; what I call a Sophie’s Choice.

For the Lust murder, while interviewing the man buying the services of the woman he is forced to kill by nearly cutting her in half, the camera pans down to just the recorder taping the interrogation and we hear a very quiet but chilling “help me.” A call back to the sloth scene.

John Doe makes his appearance at this point. His attorney gives the police 2 choices: they can turn him over for prosecution whereupon the attorney will announce that there are two murdered victims they will never find, or they can allow John Doe to finish his coup de gras by revealing the last two murders.

This is the major sticking point for whether the movie works. The sloth situation is just sloppy; the last murders aren’t sloppy so much as poorly planned by someone who had been so clever up until this point.

Envy would always be the hardest to pull off in the best of circumstances—how do you single out one person’s desire that is almost never visible? Wrath is pretty much a foregone conclusion.

We know from his diaries that Doe was a complete misanthrope. Since the final sequence has only three people and a delivery man with a relatively small box, you know where this is going. Again wrath is obvious, but envy?

How can a total misanthrope give a rip about anyone enough to envy them? The extent of his misanthropy is in the dozens of composition books filled with constipated writing. In order to accept that Doe envied Mills you have to make a huge leap of narrative faith. Just by saying he envied Mill’s life isn’t enough for the story to make sense. The only way I can think of that would make any sense at all is if John raped Tracey, but then it isn’t envy so much as lust (and all of the previous murders had something very direct about them—the sins were obvious and uncomplicated.) Envy here is more of a lie. But it has to be set up the way it is in order for wrath to complete the list. And, again, this is problematic.

Until this point, even if he didn’t pull a trigger, Doe had committed each crime. Wrath does not come from him, it happens to him. Yes, he causes it, but he is the victim, not the victimizer.

Somerset sees this and tries to stop Mills from shooting Doe. If Mills kills Doe, then the masterpiece is over; if he does not, then Doe goes to prison and winds up as another Hannibal. The shooting must happen. Not only does it make sense that a man whose pregnant wife was murdered to want to kill the murderer, it is required by economy of metaphor. Doe holds a gun to Mills’s head halfway through the film and doesn’t shoot (for reasons stated above); the pistol metaphor requires resolution.

Envy is weak; I will easily admit this. Wrath is questionable; I admit this too. But is it enough to ruin the film? My opinion is no. The story isn’t about the sins. The sins provide a motive for the film to progress, for all of the main characters to mature a bit more and add flesh to what would ordinarily be just another teen horror flick.

Plot spoilers over For those wanting the near death experience, read on

I saw the film in Atlanta at a theater called the Plaza on Ponce De Leon Avenue. Before being converted into a two screen theater, it had been a drug store. The building was long and tall but not very wide. The developers created a screen on each long side of the building. This leaves a few rows on ground level and a very steep balcony.

The front row of the balcony is only separated by a brass railing that is about thigh high for someone standing 5’ 8”( you can see where this is going). My guess is that the front row of the balcony is about 20 feet away from the screen so everything is very large.

I’m moving along getting scared for the first time in nearly two decades and liking it since it is practically a new experience. Then comes the sloth scene. It’s gross and all that, but this isn’t the first gross part of the film so that doesn’t matter. I hear Somerset say three words that make me tense up since he was the analytical one of the pair (concerned with motive, no longer horrified by what men can do to each other, someone with a barricaded heart—qualities pretty similar to me); he says, quietly among the other noise in the room, “Call an ambulance.” When the thing in the bed rises up and coughs, I leap up out of my seat. This throws me off balance and I’m about to fall off the balcony when my partner at the time grabs the waist of my jeans and throws me back into my seat. He asks if we need to go home. I say, very meekly: “maybe.”

Just the anticipation of that scene while watching it now brings me closer to a freak out than anything I’ve seen since.

Recommended:
Yes

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January 18, 2011
Great review! I need to do a review of this myself.
 
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More Seven (1995) reviews
Quick Tip by . January 18, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
This is one of my favorite movies out there....kevin spacey is an amazing actor in just about everything he does but he really delivers in this intence action thriller. Brad pitt and morgan freeman make an excellent duo in this film.
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
An edgy, smart, and truly disturbing psychological thriller that features one of the most classic film endings in recent years. A film with a great script directed by a talented filmmaker, a terrific cast, and some very memorable scenes that stay with you long after the film is over.
Quick Tip by . August 20, 2009
A defining Fincher flick that radically altered the serial killer genre and launched Kevin Spacey's career. Not for the squeamish!
review by . June 06, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
This one still hunts my mine. David Fincher broke new grounds in 1995 with the release of the psychological thriller 'Se7en'. Since its release, the suspense genre has reached newer levels. Se7en is not particularly a deep movie, but it has the ability to leave the viewer both in deep thought and awe. William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and David Mills (Brad Pitt) are two detectives, an old veteran and a young newcomer, that's being hired for a murder-case. This turns out to be a case of a serial-killer, …
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I name and describe everything and classify most things. If 'it' already had a name, the one I just gave it is better.
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The most viscerally frightening and disturbing homicidal-maniac picture sinceThe Silence of the Lambs,Sevenis based on an idea that's both gruesome and ingenious. A serial killer forces each of his victims to die by acting out one of the seven deadly sins. The murder scene is then artfully arranged into a grotesque tableau, a graphic illustration of each mortal vice. From the jittery opening credits to the horrifying (and seemingly inescapable) concluding twist, director David Fincher immerses us in a murky urban twilight where everything seems to be rotting, rusting, or molding; the air is cold and heavy with dread. Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt are the detectives who skillfully track down the killer--all the while unaware that he has been closing in on them, as well. Gwyneth Paltrow and Kevin Spacey are also featured, but it is director Fincher and the ominous, overwhelmingly oppressive atmosphere of doom that he creates that are the real stars of the film. It's a terrific date movie--for vampires.--Jim Emerson
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Details

Director: David Fincher
Genre: Thriller
Release Date: September 22, 1995
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Andrew Kevin Walker
DVD Release Date: March 26, 1997
Runtime: 127 minutes
Studio: New Line Home Video
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