Year – 1995
Country – USA
Certificate – 18 (UK)
Director – David Fincher
Cast – Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, Gweneth Paltrow
The seasons have changed and Autumn is beginning to take hold. Darkness lingers in the morning and rushes in at night, the air is chilling and the palette of the landscape is turning gold and brown. Ultimately this means everything is dying.
Due to this Autumnal mood, I am recommending David Fincher’s Se7en as a November slice of warm film pie; a film that combines incredible direction, prefect style, an unforgettable plot and wonderful performances but also exemplifies all that Autumn has to offer.
If you know nothing about Se7en, the film stars Freeman as Detective William Somerset who works the most disturbing homicide cases of an unidentified city in the United States. With the arrival of his younger replacement, Detective David Mills (Pitt), Somerset also begins work on the most calculating and psychotic case he has ever experienced. The two detectives are called to a handful of murders that seem to follow the pattern of the seven deadly sins, each person being killed for their allegiance to a sin, with clues leading the authorities to the next victim. Somerset and Mills find themselves drawn deep into the mind of a psychopath and will stop at nothing to see justice served.
Fincher’s film comes with such high recommendation because in many ways it is a perfect film, but it is also branded with Fincher’s unique style in such a way that it unites elements of thriller, noir and horror to create something one of a kind.
The film begins with some of the best opening titles I have ever seen, which went on to inspire directors such as visionary Guillermo Del Toro. The titles use stills, photographs and text which flash across the screen but are blurred and darkened, making them appear to be the thoughts or recollections of a mad man. This instantly sets the tone of the film and makes the viewer uncomfortable with the jagged images tormenting the screen.
As the story begins, another element which is handled expertly is the decision to throw the viewer directly into the action. There is no build up to the first case or visual explanation of each character, instead the first case opens the film and the characters are expanded and explained through their relationship to the case and each other. This is such a defining decision as many directors would not have the expertise needed to run the character development alongside the other plot streams without building a platform to hold them. From this point on, the film grabs hold of the viewer and never lets go. The victims build up and the tension grows, but at no point does the story falter. You will be on the edge of your seat until the haunting final moments.
It is Fincher’s style which propels the film from a standard Hollywood thriller to something ten times more. The film is coated in darkness, with each set feeling like the darkness is holding something back from the detectives as they prowl for clues with their torches.
The beginning scenes in particular force the viewer to squint and assess the entire view to create a picture of what they are looking at. This doesn’t work in a negative way, but instead emphasises the dark acts which have occurred and places the viewer in the same situation as the detectives, feeling in the dark and searching for way out. Costume designer Michael Kaplan ties the costumes neatly into the mood of the film, by dressing both Pitt and Freeman in dark, dull suits. Pitt’s black coat swallows him and aims to protect him from the new job, but reversely immerses him further into the darkness as he becomes more involved with a serial killer. Freeman’s grey suits emphasise his relationship with his work, presenting a detective who thinks he has seen it all but in the final days of his job is proved wrong. Paltrow, on the other hand, is seen dressed in lighter clothing which separates her from murder cases and signifies to the viewer that she is an innocent bystander in a whirlwind of suffering. However, it is her character, Tracy, who openly objects to the city she has been forced to move to and appears to be the only one willing to speak the truth about a city which has bullied Somerset into retirement.
Se7en is layered with incredible detail and finely crafted elements. Even though its main story is a murder mystery, the film rewards you for watching again and again, continuously pulling you into its sinister world. The characters are so authentic that each time you watch you will genuinely find your feelings for them once more. Fincher has created scenes within the film which any viewer is likely to remember long after watching: the perversely obese man drowned in a plate of spaghetti, his veins a purple marble across his stretched body, his feet tethered together with barbed wire and the stench of vomit clogging the air.
Se7en set up many of the tropes for the modern detective thrillers that followed: a wise, retiring mastermind, a young, excited new detective, a killer that wants to be found, and an elaborate set of forensic clues which lead to an unforgettable climax. Even the television phenomenon CSI: Crime Scene Investigation has a lot to thank the film for. It was by no means the defining detective film, but Se7en brought about a new menacing and more twisted style to the genre which has set the standard to this day. With the release of Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) this Christmas, we may we see the next leap in the genre for future generations.
Overall, Se7en isn’t just a film about catching a killer, it is about understanding a killer in a similar way to The Silence of the Lambs (1991), but also addresses the more modern concept of the serial killer as a celebrity. It comments on the notion that we are elevated to fame more in death than we are in life. It wants to explore human emotion and our reaction to the world, and Se7en makes us question the people we inhabit this world with and how we cope with the things we have thrown at us. For every laugh or smile we enjoy, there is always pain to be endured. In the end, we can try to control ourselves but we can never control the world or those around us, and for our common sins, should we be punished?