The DVD of Se7en in our film box at home always filled me with fear in my younger days – its dark, minimalist cover and its bright red 18 certificate made me wonder at the possible horrors within. I finally built up the courage to watch it when I was 15, and as I slipped the disc into the DVD tray I steeled myself by thinking that it couldn’t possibly be as bad as I had imagined. Surely…
The film immediately locates us in a dreary, nameless city, where crime is as constant and persistent as the driving rain. Experienced detective and city native, Somerset (Freeman) must take under his wing the new and enthusiastic Detective Mills (Pitt). Mills has recently moved to the city with his young wife, played by Gwyneth Paltrow, who is perhaps the only likeable (and female) character in the film. The motives for the first murders the two detectives catch together both seem inspired by the seven deadly sins, and Somerset, who is in his final week on the job, is reluctant to delve into what he believes will be a long and fruitless chase for the serial killer. However, he is persuaded to help Mills with the investigation until his imminent retirement – the hunt begins.
Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt have a great onscreen chemistry, and despite both playing somewhat to type (wise old-timer/energetic, combustible upstart) their performances are career standouts. However, not for the first time, the show is well and truly stolen by Kevin Spacey. Although his character, the serial killer Joe Doe, only appears for the final thirty minutes, his face is the image that will haunt viewers long after the film is over.
Yet, even with all these eminently watch-able performances, Se7en is a hard watch. The film is grim. But it is grim in such an operatic way, its conclusion so bleak, that it becomes a fascinatingly gruelling watch. The film experience it reminds me of most insistently is Platoon, which made me wonder whether Oliver Stone had a soul. Se7en, similarly, leaves me each time questioning humanity and asking myself why I would ever choose to watch it.
The answer to the latter is that Se7en is beautiful. Directed by the famously obsessive David Fincher, the film feels pored over, with every frame examined and every camera-angle loaded with significance. If it weren’t tantamount to slander, I would say comparing Fincher’s rigorously orchestrated film to John Doe’s carefully planned murders had some merit; both structured to perfection, both sadistic in the extreme, both unforgettable.
Already seen as a modern classic, Se7en has shocked and enthralled all those who have dared to watch. My younger self was right to steer clear.