REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS
The 1995 film ‘Seven’, or ‘Se7en’, is directed by David Fincher who, before this film, directed Alien 3 and swore never to direct a film ever again. I’m glad he did. The film stars Brad Pitt who plays Detective Mills, Morgan Freeman who plays Detective Somerset, Gwyneth Paltrow who plays Tracy and Kevin Spacey who plays John Doe.
The story follows William Somerset, a retiring detective, and David Mills, a detective who was relocated by his request, who become partners for the week as Somerset settles Mills into his new position before he retires. Their first case together is a suspected homicide with a man apparently eating until he burst. Somerset refuses to carry on as he doesn’t want a big case for his final week but is denied reassignment to another case while Mills is put on another case.
Somerset goes back to the original crime scene to search for clues and finds the word gluttony. At Mills’s new crime scene, the word greed is spelt out in blood. Somerset then connects the two cases together using the seven deadly sins; Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Lust, Pride, Envy and Wrath. Five more murders take place, and Somerset and Mills become obsessed in the killer’s methods and skill.
Brad Pitt plays the light-hearted detective, David Mills, who has moved to the un-named city with his wife. This city is set up as a horrible place and people ask him throughout the film why he moved here and his reason is that he wants to ‘do some good’ and was attracted to this city full of dread and crime, which confuses Somerset.
Brad Pitt had just come off filming ‘Legends of the Fall’ and was fed up with these stereotypical and predictable roles and stories and wanted a change. He was attracted to ‘Seven’ because of the ending, which was the same as many actors on the project. When the studio called for a re-write of the ending, Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman said they’d leave the project if it was changed. The studio backed off and the ending remained.
Somerset is a serious, yet wise, detective who has been living in the city for most of his life and is fed up with the amount of crime and violence there is on the streets. He is a man who keeps to himself, quiet and most of the time alone, yet has a soft heart, worrying about families affected by the killings. He is very sarcastic when it comes to people who point out the obvious, or to people that are in his way.
Kevin Spacey plays John Doe, the main antagonist of the film, and is definitely one of the best performances and villains of all time. The emotionless character performs inhumane acts that disturb the characters and the audience just thinking about what happened. He is the devil, and Kevin Spacey owned the role. I can’t think of anyone who could replace him.
Andrew Walker, who also wrote ‘Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘The Wolfman’, was the man behind this intense and violent script. He started off with writing an episode of ‘Tales From the Crypt’ in 1993, and then found fame when he wrote the script for ‘Seven’. After that, he wrote ‘8mm’ starring Nicolas Cage and then got called in by David Fincher to script doctor the film ‘Fight Club’. He has slowed down on writing but the nightmares he put on paper will always be there.
His ideas of violence and gore are shown through the eyes of David Fincher which really adds to the dark grittiness of the screenplay. He has obviously put a lot of planning into this rollercoaster of events, bringing in the seven deadly sins, amazingly disturbing acts committed on people and multiple plot twists that are both unpredictable and shocking. Even with controversy when it first came out, the ending is one of the best closures to a film ever with the intense and shocking ‘What’s in the box?!’ scene.
Andrew also doesn’t disclose where this film is set, revealing only what the characters think about where they are based. They talk about it being crime-ridden, and a place no one wants to stay. This adds a whole new mystery of why they aren’t revealing the location, adding a sense of discomfort with the characters.
The cinematography was directed by Darius Khondji, who later did cinematography for Alien: Resurrection, The Immigrant and The Lost City of Z.
A lot of the shots are very smooth and planned with very little handheld camera shaking, which shows the detectives slowly working the case out or having the upper hand on John Doe. David Fincher and Darius Khondji use handheld camera shakes when the characters are either in an unfamiliar place, like the Sloth scene or when they are under stress. What this does is show the audience when the characters are at their weakest and most vulnerable.
A perfect example of this is when Mills finds out his wife has been murdered by John Doe. His slow realisation of what John is talking about is unveiled with a slow dolly towards Mills. It then cuts to a static shot of John and a handheld shot of Mills and Somerset which continues until John is inevitably shot. This handheld camera look signifies Mills’s world crumbling around him. It shows the dominant character in the scene, John Doe, controlling what Mills thinks.
The opening title sequence is a very iconically disturbing due to its use of sound and imagery that makes the audience uncomfortable to watch yet is so distinctive and interesting that you can’t stop watching. The music adds to this discomfort with its dirty and most of the time muffled instruments. It’s mainly made up of a guitar being played but filtered to make it sound like it’s being played in a tin and this gives it a very unique sound and feel.
The production team used real, violent crime scene photos to give this opening sequence that extra creep, stomach-turning factor that sticks in your mind. The imagery isn’t random, each clip tells you a bit about the killer without revealing his identity. The countless shots of the book with his scribblings and grotesque pictures begin to piece together what type of character John Doe is; it tells us he doesn’t hold back when it comes to his creative murders. Each picture shows how ruthless and inhumane he is – performing these crimes and the imagery of cutting himself to hide his identity. Just from the opening title sequence, he is someone to be feared.
The two main elements of this film I used as inspiration for my film is the overall feel of the film and the opening sequence. The feel is a very bleak and unpleasant, not a place you’d want to go or live and this is all set up with the amount of crime that’s taking place. This world we are introduced to is sickly and dirty and it creates such a dark feel to everything.
The opening scene has things flashing onto the screen from writing into a book to fingers being cut. All these are either close-ups or extreme close-ups, giving a depth of field blur to the image to make the audience concentrate on certain elements shown on the screen. I really like the way clips are overlaid with opacity and some clips sped up to give the sense of time passing which I’m a big fan of.
Overall, this is one of my favourite films of all time with disturbing imagery, captivating performances and riveting plot twists. David Fincher brings Andrew Walker’s gruesome and unnerving script to life in a brutal fashion and really shows what David Fincher is capable of.