Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Se7en (1995) - A Review

Long is the way, and hard, that out of hell leads up to light.
Seven deadly sins. Seven deadly crimes, each more ghastly than the last. David Fincher’s 1995 film Se7en  is an exercise in the macabre that carries an impact (like a sledgehammer, haha) that can last many years. In my case, it’s been over 10 and the film still rattles me to my core.

Se7en holds a very special place in my heart. It helped to ignite the spark of horror love in my dark little heart, and it was also the first review that I ever wrote which went on to be submitted (and posted) on Bloody-Disgusting, over 8 years ago. On a recent trip to Fry’s, to purchase my copy of You’re Next, I decided to scoop up a copy of the film on blu-ray and on Friday night I treated myself to another viewing of the amazing film.

While I half expected a rather mild viewing of the film I was treated to a wonderful joy ride, yet again, and it was cemented in my mind that this will always be one of my favorite horror films. It’s a work of art that often goes overlooked, so I decided that I would re-review it without having read my old review for BD and take a gander at how they match up. It’s always fun revisiting horror films after a good few years and seeing how your opinions change.

Fun, no?
Title: Se7en
Director(s): David Fincher
Writer(s): Andrew Kevin Walker
Starring: Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, R. Lee Ermey, Kevin Spacey
Studio: New Line Cinema
Running Time: 126 minutes
Release Date: September 22, 1995

Disgusting, vile, wretched, hopeless, grimy, grotesque: these words and more find a home in David Fincher’s cult classic Se7en, the story of two detectives brought together in their pursuit to find a man hellbent on ridding the world of sin. By “turning the sin on the sinner” through the act of attrition, each crime scene descends deeper into the pits of depravity, ultimately leading to one of the greatest climactic moments in film history.

When Det. David Mills transfers to the homicide department in a rain soaked city, whose crime statistics would rival that of Gotham, he is teamed up with the soon-to-be-retired Det. William Somerset. The detectives begin an investigation of a series of murders based on Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy and his description of the seven deadly sins which leads them down a path they never saw, or wanted to see, coming.

Se7en is probably the closest thing that one could find to describe as a perfect horror film for me. Now, let me emphasize the “for me” of that statement, as it can easily be misread to fit in a context with very different meaning. There is a feeling of sadness and despair that permeates to the very core of this film. There is a pervading sense of a fear in which you know that this could be happening out there, right now, and it could be happening two streets over. This is the style of horror that will chill me to my bones and leave a lasting impression.

The film opens, and wastes little time, with introducing us to the bleak canvas upon which the film is built: a dark and grimy city, battered by sheets of rain and despair. While the name of the city is never mentioned, it is believed to be New York City, and we’re not talking Manhattan here either. It is a hopeless place, filled with a palpable sense of apathy so thick you could cut it with a knife. As Somerset so eloquently puts it, it is “a place that embraces and nurtures apathy as if it was virtue.”

The intro sequence is, believe it or not, one of my favorite parts of the film. Well, you may be able to believe that as it is considered to be one of the greatest title sequences of the last 20 years (http://www.artofthetitle.com/title/se7en/). The sequence sets the mood for the film, in which we’re introduced to our “John Doe”, a man who is not insane, rather, methodical and meticulous. While we do not see his face, we see his hands, bandaged and frayed, filling notebooks with thoughts from margin to margin. Putting together his master plan, and giving the viewer a sense that what we are seeing is not madness but a terrifying sense of genius. We are in John Doe’s world now; a world of attrition, fear and desolation. 

The cast is as strong and powerful as it is small. Morgan Freeman is paired off against Brad Pitt as the wise and veteran Det. Somerset. Brad Pitt, the hot headed Det. Mills, is married to a beautiful woman named Tracy, who is played by Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s always amazing to see three actors with such huge resumes backing their names, come into a film like this and give it their all. This all goes without even mentioning the piece de resistance, Kevin Spacey in the role of John Doe. While his onscreen time tallies that of 30 minutes, the execution of the part was flawless not only in Spacey’s talents but also in the directors and the writers as well. John Doe is one of the most terrifying and prolific on screen baddies of all time, he is merely often overlooked in favor of Hannibal Lecter. It is also Spacey’s dedication to the film that is a great indication of the care that went into creating it. He decided to forgo his name at the top of the bill, so as to not spoil who the killer is when the credits rolled in the title sequence. In the film industry this means a huge cut in the paycheck, but it was all worth it for the sake of the film.

While Doe’s dialogue seems a bit contrived at times, I was soon asking myself if those feelings weren’t more caused by a general increase in cynicism among the American audience over the past 20 years. Other than this one point, I can’t say there are any gaping plot holes, annoyances or other instances of “Oh boy” that I can comment on. 

In closing, I will focus a bit on the craftsmanship of the film. Many of you know my views on horror and it’s place as a form of art. This film perfectly exemplifies everything that I appreciate in a good horror film, and it manages to take it to the next level. With Fincher viewing the film as a “tiny, genre film,” he approached it with a raw and visceral directorial style that cuts to your core and often times leaves you feeling uncomfortable and exposed. The film has a feeling of being dirty at points, like you’re watching something you shouldn’t be.Fincher’s dedication to bringing the grittiness of this oppressive city to life is what made this film the cult classic that it is today. It is a film that defies genre, due to it’s all star cast and it’s willingness to hold nothing back. It is a film of which I could ramble for hours, with a story behind it that is just as interesting as the events that unfold on screen.

Would I recommend this film? Absolutely. It is a must for horror fans, and thriller fans alike. Se7en is ultimately a film that plays on the feelings that we spend our days attempting to suppress: depression, inadequacy, hopelessness and fear. It is a film that forces us to confront the darkest parts of the human psyche, to stare into the mind of man who does things that makes our stomach turn and dares us to go one step further in our attempt to understand it. In fact, it makes us question our desire to understand it in the first place, and in this, it’s a perfect horror film that raises questions of morality, humanity and redemption. John Doe eloquently sums it up in the perfect way, “Wanting people to listen, you can't just tap them on the shoulder anymore. You have to hit them with a sledgehammer, and then you'll notice you've got their strict attention.”

And I’ll tell you what, if this sledgehammer doesn’t get your attention, then I don’t what to tell you. 


- Rg Lovecraft

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