FINCHERFEST: Se7en

25 09 2010

A real review of David Fincher’s work should begin with “Se7en,” the first movie he takes full credit for.  It was a financial success in 1995 and has since become an adored movie by fans on video.  The movie currently sits at #26 on IMDb’s Top 250 movies as voted by users, and in today’s installment of Fincherfest, I will attempt to explain what has made it so endearing over the past 15 years.

I’m a big fan of “Seven,” but I hate to say that I don’t think it’s quite as good as some people think it is.  According to Lisa Schwarzbaum, overrated is a big critical no-no word; however, since this is more a look in retrospect than a review, I don’t feel quite as bad using it.

Fincher does an excellent job directing a very cerebral world of horror, and as his first real directorial effort, it’s quite impressive.  Yet overall, I wasn’t quite as affected by it as I felt I should have been.  When it comes to serial killer movies, I much prefer “The Silence of the Lambs” and “No Country for Old Men.”

Yet I acknowledge that “Seven” has a very different kind of horror.  We aren’t meant to be freaked out by the murderer John Doe (Kevin Spacey).  We never see him committing any crimes, nor does he ever give us any indication that he might flip and kill another person.  He’s just like anyone you could round up off the streets, and that makes him all the more frightening.  John Doe is like Heath Ledger’s The Joker without a makeup and without any sense of humor.  The tacit implication is that all of us have the capability to be John Doe, something quite scary to suggest and not the kind of message you want to walk away from a movie having learned.  We never see the results of the killings, inspiring the audience to imagine the murder for themselves.  Anyone who can do so has the inherent ability to be Doe.

Such a killer is the last person Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman, pre-God) wants to deal with in his waning hours on the job.  He and his replacement, Detective Mills (Brad Pitt), are drawn into the world of John Doe, who commits murders related to the Seven Deadly Sins.  Catching him requires intellect, and they delve into the classic work of Dante, Thomas Aquinas, and others to figure out his modus operandi.  The dialectic struggle between Somerset about to apathetically walk off the job and Mills eagerly awaiting his future is a fascinating backdrop to the rest of the brutal themes of the movie.

Apparently back in the ’90s, New Line Cinema advertised “Se7en” as a movie that you shouldn’t watch in the dark because that atmosphere would scare anyone to death.  I did just that, and I found the darkness to be nothing more than a fitting complement to the universe Fincher crafts.  It’s always muggy and rainy in the unidentified city where the murders take place, and the world view the movie espouses is bleaker than the weather.  According to Somerset, the world is worth fighting for, but it’s hardly a fine place.

The more you think about it, the more you realize Fincher’s challenge to our assumptions of what is good and what is evil.  The villain is defined … or is it?  Such an idea is a little unsettling to audiences, but that hasn’t kept it from being very well received.  Perhaps its forte isn’t in being a serial killer movie; the strength is in the social critique of the godlessness of society.

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3 responses

27 09 2010
Fitz

It questions a lot of things – I think it actually questions the devotion to Christianity if anything, not godlessness though the theme is there. And Fincher does well with no horror conventions like bump scares.

28 09 2010
Castor

Fincher’s masterpiece imo. The grim, dark atmosphere is just one of the best ever put on film. Kevin Spacey is perfectly cast as the really creepy John Doe. Awesome film!

30 09 2010
Fitz

I don’t think anyone else – maybe Day-Lewis – could have pulled of Doe.

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