Ernest Hemingway once wrote, "The world is a fine place and worth fighting for." I agree with the second part.
I debated back and forth about whether to consider Se7en a horror film or not. It is a film that certainly shares many of the most common traits that define the horror genre: dark locations, a certain amount of gore, a serial killer. However, there was always something about Se7en that made it seem like something…more. In the end I decided that if the Saw films could be considered horror, than so could this.
Se7en follows two detectives, the young and idealistic David Mills (Brad Pitt) and the old and cynical William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), as they try and track down a killer who is using the seven deadly sins as the inspiration and method for his killings. As the two detectives uncover each murder, they become increasingly more desperate to stop the killer before he completes his plan. That really is about the lamest synopsis to film I have ever written, but the movie is so much more than you can describe with plot points.
If you turned the sound off on your television and just watched Se7en, you would still have witnessed a very impressive film. Every frame seems to reflect the mood of the story at all times. Everything is falling apart. All the lights appear to be stained with many decades worth of cigarette smoke. The paint on the walls is faded and peeling. It is always raining. You can almost smell the decay in the air. No shot seems accidental.
When you watch the films as a whole (turn the volume back up), what you get is an intense horror/mystery that is masterfully crafted and wholly disturbing. Each victim’s gruesome demise will find a way to stick with you; the gluttonous man who is forced to eat himself to death; the greedy man who must cut a pound of flesh from his own body. I hadn’t watched this movie in many years, and I could still recreate the most unsettling scenes in my head.
Yet, in the midst of all the darkness, there are a number of moments that keeps us grounded, and invested in our main characters. The scene where William, David, and David’s wife Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow) all joke around the dinner table. There’s the breakfast where Tracy asks for advice from William about her pregnancy. There is one of my favorite scenes in any movie, where William goes to an old library after hours and wonders through the stacks researching Dante, Chaucer, and religion while Bach’s Air -Suite No. 3 in D Major plays in the background. Each scene adds much needed humanity to the film and ultimately magnifies the films ending.
The real horror of Se7en comes when we finally meet our killer, John Doe. What scares me about John Doe is his rationality. Never does he come across as a man who has lost his mind, but rather a man who sees what the rest of us cannot. Of course we are mortified by his actions, but somewhere in the recesses of our mind we understand why he does what he does. I can dismiss “crazy”, it is cold logic that gives me the willies.
I don’t know if it was tougher for me to watch this movie the first time, or each of the many subsequent viewings. As the movie speeds towards its memorable conclusion, I often wish that this time it would play out differently. This time, the sun never comes out. This time we never have to answer the question, “What’s in the box!?”
Written by Drew Martin