When I had the chance to write a retrospective look-back on this film, I was beyond thrilled. Not only is today the 25th anniversary of it’s release (which also happens to be my birthday), but it’s one of my favourite films from one of my favourite directors, David Fincher. Films like Fight Club, Zodiac, The Social Network and Gone Girl never fail to rope me in with their superb writing, twisty plots and dark character drama (no matter how many times I’ve watched them). But before all those, there was one film that truly established Fincher’s style, and practically changed the game for the psychological-thriller genre. That film was Se7en.
As I already mentioned, Se7en was released on this day in 1995. It’s a dark and deeply unsettling look into the mind of a serial killer, and the investigating officers charged with catching him. The story follows New York homicide detectives William Somerset (Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption, The Dark Knight trilogy) and David Mills (Brad Pitt, Fight Club, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood). Just one day after being partnered, the detectives find themselves tracking a serial killer using the seven deadly sins as inspiration for his killings. The film also stars Gwenyth Paltrow (Iron Man, Contagion) and R. Lee Ermey (Toy Story, Full Metal Jacket).
While it has enough suspense to go around, at its core, Se7en is a character study. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman have time and time again proven themselves to be two of Hollywood’s finest actors, and their performances in this movie are no exceptions. The characters of Mills and Somerset are two of the most layered characters ever put to the genre; the apathetic, seasoned detective and the young, headstrong rookie. It’s a dynamic we’ve seen countless times, but rarely this effectively portrayed. One of my favourite scenes comes when Mills and Somerset are discussing their worldviews in a bar. It’s interesting to see how intrinsic their beliefs are to their characters, and how it influences their relationship with each other. It’s an expertly written scene, and proves that Se7en isn’t just another gritty cop thriller – but it actually has something real to say.
While we’re on the subject of the characters, no review would be complete without mentioning the villain of the story. Everything we’ve learned about our characters is flipped on its head when introduced to the villain, played by Kevin Spacey (American Beauty, Baby Driver), who gives a creepy-as-hell performance and acts as a dark reflection of our protagonists. It also leads to one of the most suspenseful and iconic endings of all time. The pure calmness of Spacey in the climactic final moments makes him one of the most frightening movie villains to date.
If you haven’t noticed by now, I really like this movie. It’s the perfect blend of psychological horror and character drama, and the editing makes you feel as though you’re on a rollercoaster that seldom ever slows down. We as an audience are taken from one lurid scene to the next, and while it has its fair share of disturbing imagery, Fincher never shows more than needed. Instead, he leaves it up to us to imagine the horror (even though we may not want to). It isn’t easy for a film to be as effectively unsettling as Se7en without the use of gore, but that’s just another reason why it works so damn well. I commend Fincher for his restraint and Darius Khondji (Uncut Gems) for his anxiety-inducing cinematography.
To this day, Se7en remains a classic in the crime-thriller genre, and a true standout in a decade worth of film. I hope it continues to serve as a blueprint for the films that follow, and even though David Fincher has gone on to direct countless more gems, this will always be one film of his that I’ll turn to whenever I’m in the mood for a good, though-provoking thriller.