Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker
Directed by: David Fincher
Starring: Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, and R. Lee Ermey
Reviewed by: Brett G.
"Ernest Hemingway once wrote, 'the world is a fine place and worth fighting for.' I agree with the second part."
As David Fincher's most recent team-up with Brad Pitt (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) hits theaters, it seems appropriate for me to take a trip down memory lane and revisit this duo's first collaboration: Seven, a film that has become a bona-fide cult classic in the decade since its release. As a director, Fincher hasn't exactly been a stranger to the horror genre, as his debut feature was the criminally underrated Alien 3, which was unfortunately shredded by Fox before the director's original vision was finally restored on DVD. Since Seven, Fincher has tread on the lines of the genre with both The Game and Zodiac, films that take a more cerebral approach than Seven, which still stands as Fincher's masterpiece. An intensely cerebral film in its own right, Seven also packs just enough of a visceral punch that allows it to haunt viewers after the film ends. Furthermore, the presence of Fincher managed to attract quite a few A-List stars in the form of Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey, and Gwyneth Paltrow, which is something that rarely happens for the horror genre (and, when it does happen, it always seems like critics refer to the film as a "thriller" or "psychological thriller").
As the film opens, world-weary and cynical Detective Somerset (Freeman) is on the verge of retirement. His replacement, Detective Mills (Pitt), arrives just in time to allow the duo to investigate the grisly murder of an obese man that was apparently fed to death. Somerset is initially unwilling to get caught up in such an obsessive case, but the police captain (R. Lee Ermey) has no one to replace him. Meanwhile, Somerset is assigned to another case involving the murder of an infamous criminal lawyer, and it soon becomes apparent that two murders are connected because both victims are killed for their sins of gluttony and greed, respectively. This brings both Somerset and Mills together as they desperately attempt to unravel the killer's identity and prevent him from carrying out and complete his "masterpiece" of punishing one person for each of the deadly seven sins.
Personally, I find the setup and premise of the film to be nothing short of brilliant, and I think it'd be really hard for anyone to not make an entertaining film from it. However, in the hands of Fincher, it becomes more than just an entertaining film, as it's a meditation on obsession, justice, and the depravity of mankind. There's some substantial thematic weight behind all of the madness, which is nice to see every once in a while. It also helps that Fincher is working with those aforementioned A-listers, particularly Freeman, who brings gravitas and charisma to the Somerset character, which is key because, at its core, Seven is really a character piece centered around Somerset and Mills. The murders just serve as the impetus that allows the viewers to discover what makes the two tick as human beings, and not only does it work, but it has to work, as the film's climax would not be nearly as effective without the film's character development.
This is not to say that the film is lacking in the horror department, however, as the film is chilling on many levels. First of all, some of the murders themselves are among some of the most cringe-worthy to ever grace a screen, and many of them are merely implied. In some cases, viewers are treated with the grisly aftermath but are never made privy to the actual acts themselves, which is an interesting technique that leaves a lot to the imagination. In fact, the "lust" murder remains one of the most cringe-inducing film murders that I can think of, and we never see any of it. When I first saw the film, I was about 13, and that scene has been burned into my memory ever since. When viewers are treated to a bit of grue, it's all intensely gritty and realistic, featuring some excellent work from effects guru Rob Bottin.
Secondly, the perpetrator of the murders himself, John Doe, is one of the most chilling characters of all time. Despite his limited screen time, Kevin Spacey truly impacts the film and is arguably the film's most memorable character, as Doe is clearly more than a mindless killer; instead, he's cut from the same mold as Hannibal Lecter, as he's more than ready to philosophize and even preach his values to the world (in this sense, readers might see a bit of a parallel to Jigsaw from the Saw series). Some films attempt to make a killer scary by making them outlandishly insane, but Fincher doesn't go this route, as Doe is a cold, calculating individual that enjoys his work. Doe's lone, lengthy scene towards the end of the film contains an unsettling conversation between himself and the two detectives that falls in line with the film's understated tone. Even the film's ending (which is one of the most infamous and shocking endings ever) isn't very bombastic; it is somewhat chaotic, but Doe maintains a chilling composure as he attempts to complete his masterpiece.
And all of this is not to mention the overall grim atmosphere of the film, which plays out like a modern-day noir, right down to the rain-soaked sets, the costume designs, and the world-weary Somerset. Even Spacey's initial appearance in the film visually evokes the murderer in Fritz Lang's M (also one of the more sadistic killers in cinema history). Furthermore, the film just looks downright bleak, as even Fincher's stylish touches only serve to make the film look more gritty and realistic. However, unlike those early noirs, Seven is not a very faith-affirming film; instead, it's intensely nihilistic and pessimistic work that ultimately haunts me after I've watched it (despite the fact that I've seen the film several times). Despite this, the film obviously remains alluring to me. I hesitate to call such a grim affair entertaining, but the fact remains that Fincher's direction and pacing are masterful, and the performances are among the best the genre has to offer. Of all the horror-related films released in the past 15 years, Seven is certainly among the best, even if it does tread on the lines of other genres. It's a bit of a crime thriller, a mystery film, and a character piece, but it all melds together quite nicely to create a pretty horrifying experience when it's all said and done.
It's only fitting that this film's DVD release still remains one of the best ever, despite being released over 8 years ago. Released in 2000 from dearly-departed New Line Cinema (who remained one of the best home video companies until the very end), the Platinum Series DVD is absolutely loaded with extras, including four commentaries, each focusing on a different aspect of the story, including "the stars," "the story," "the picture," and "the sound." There are also a host of documentaries dedicated to revealing how the film was mastered for home video; the features take viewers through the video mastering, audio mastering, and color correction stages. It's a fascinating look at something that's sort of taken for granted these days. There's also a host of deleted scenes, an alternate ending, production designs, still photographs, and a host of EPK materials. Like I said, this sucker is teeming with extras, and it even comes in an awesome case that resembles one of John Doe's notebooks in the film. As far as the video goes, it's pretty passable. I noticed a lot of edge enhancement due to a larger television set, but the transfer is otherwise well done. I have no complaints about the film's soundtrack, as the DTS 6.1 track is still among the best on standard DVD, as it's very immersive and bombastic. And the best part? You can find this bad boy for less than 15 bucks these days, which is quite a bit less than what I paid for it years ago, and it's certainly worth every penny. It'd be a sin for any horror fan to go without this modern classic. Buy it!
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