DIRECTOR: David Fincher
Late one night in 1996, a friend of mine rang me up after a trip to cinema with his girlfriend to tell me about a film that he had just seen called Seven. I had seen the trailers for it, with a rising star, Brad Pitt and the more established Morgan Freeman, in the days before he became the king of narration, hunting for a serial killer who was choosing his victims in line with his belief that they had each committed one of the seven deadly sins.
Suffices to say, that my friend, who was in his mid twenties whilst I was just 17, was somewhat disturbed by what he had seen. The ending was described to me in some detail as were several major plot points but this did not deter me from getting the video the following year. I was expecting to be terrified or equally as disturbed but there was nothing. I hated it! The sting and shock had been taken out by my friend’s spoilers and I wrote the film off completely.
But, not one to give up entirely at the first hurdle, I tried it again soon after. This time, without any expectations or fear, I loved it, mainly because I got it. This was not a horror film, this was clinical procedural piece, as much about the investigation and the killer as it was about the investigators themselves. This was a character piece disguised as a grungy neo-noir crime horror film. Freeman as Detective Somerset was a worldly intellectual, who had the ability to get into the head of the insane killer without losing himself in the process and Pitt as Detective Mills, was the hot head driven by aggression but not in a bad way. By the end it could be reasoned that he was the flip side of the John Doe, the killer’s coin.
As for the identity of Doe or the last twenty minutes full stop, I will say no more. If you seen it, you already know and if you haven’t then spoiling this conclusion will do nothing for you. But it’s not about ‘The Package’, nor the identity of ‘Wrath’ as many talk about with this film. To me it the building tension from moment that Mills pulls his gun in the police station till Doe’s masterpiece is completed.
Sorry for the code but this is one of the best ending to a film that I’ve seen, up there with Planet Of The Apes and The Sixth Sense to name but a couple, and I feel that it needs protecting.
The performances in this film are fantastic, as is Andrew Kevin Walkers screenplay and Fincher’s expert direction though at this point he was just breaking into mainstream cinema. This is a bleak film, told over seven days, most of which are wet, and we are all subjected to some of the cinemas most horrific scenes, featuring torture that in some cases, goes beyond much that we had seen up to this point in a mainstream thriller.
The framework of the narrative is very cleverly shifted in the last act as so far we have been moving though a straight forward investigative format, with Freeman and Pitt following to evidence and discovering terrible scenes of violence and torture but then this changes and the finale is set. But it is this shift that makes this film. An early draft had a pretty straight forward shoot out ending, which reads like any other thriller of this sort.
A chase after Doe through the sewers and a deadly shoot-out in a burning church, with Mills forfeiting his life and Sommerset making a much clearer statement that he will be still be working with police past his retirement. Thank god this ending never saw the light of day! The finale chosen, whilst not favoured as much by the studio, was the way to go and it is said that Freeman and Pitt but applied pressure for Fincher’s original ending to stand, and thankfully, they won.
This was not horror porn of the likes of Saw or Hostel, which would rear their ugly heads in the 2000’s, this was a frightening portrayal of the horrors of the human psyche, as summed up by the entry in Doe’s Journal were he describes being so offended by a fellow subway passenger’s small talk that he threw up on him. The idea that men or women could be around us everyday capable of such atrocities is where the real horror lies, again summed up nicely by Sommerset’s closing monologue quoting Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls: “‘The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.”
There aren’t many film’s of this genre which I would rate so highly but as a film which when trailed back in 1995, looked to be nothing more than a simple serial killer hunting thriller, it has proven to be true classic and the beginning of David Fincher’s mainstream career as a true directorial visionary, who has since gone on to direct films are the story dictates, such as the true stories, well based upon, Zodiac, The Social Network and the more recent novel adaptation of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. But one thing is for sure, after Se7en, he was forgiven by many for Alien 3…