“Se7en” is shorthand for the Seven Deadly Sins. Yes, that’s right, the Magnificent Seven: Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Lust, Pride, Envy and Wrath, this time packaged neatly by David Filcher (he of Fight Club, Zodiac, Panic Room and Benjamin Button fame) into a 1995 net-noir horror/thriller depicting a grim but anonymous American city beset by permanent rain, crime and misery, and in the process photographed quite beautifully.
Here world weary retiring detective William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) is joined for his last week on the job by hot-headed newbie David Mills (Brad Pitt), who happens to be married to the eternally gorgeous Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow.) Somerset thinks he has seen everything until a serial killer known only as John Doe, played in a performance laden with the usual Kevin Spacey irony and menace by, strangely enough, an uncredited Kevin Spacey – though any Spacey is a good thing.
Doe, he of the cut fingertips, a sure but painful way to avoid leaving fingerprints and of giving any clue to your real identity, is, like many movie serial killers, deeper, darker and rather more educated than your average real life ripper. Think of him as an introverted distant cousin of Hannibal Lecter without the cannibalism and you won’t go far wrong.
Doe has a plan – one in which he by name is irrelevant but by reputation through he deeds will live forever in infamy, which he has written out by hand in thousands of incomprehensible pages of notes. This involves acting out a gruesome series of murders linked to the seven deadly sins, in the hope that there are detectives with sufficient brain cells to keep up with his cerebral murders – something that might defeat your average plod but would exercise the minds of Professors of Criminology, Hercules Poirot and the like.
And the clues to keep the cops on the trail of this masterwork? Ah yes. Placed at each crime scene are erudite clues, the sort a truly sophisticated killer-about-town would dream up to amuse himself, since there is no pleasure to be had from being too obvious or jejune. Each corpse is laid out in a glorious but barbaric tableau, awaiting discovery and elucidation, something Doe realises only Somerset on the city police force is capable of achieving. The one I liked most was Pride, whereby the victim’s nose was cut off – to spite her face, naturally.
As it turns out, Somerset is the literary sort, a man up to the challenge of identifying a warped game when he sees one, much as if a 3D version of Cluedo were being played out. Thus commences the cat and mouse chase to see whether John Doe can be stopped in his tracks before the plan can be seen through to its conclusion – though who is chasing whom you will have to decide for yourself. However, it’s fair to say that you only need look at the pictures above to see that if anyone looks like they’ve been to hell and back, John Doe it ain’t.
Enough of the frivolity. Seven (dispensing with the cheap marketing device in the title) is a fine movie, dark and dingy but tense and effective to the point where your mind will be screaming if you’ve never seen it before. That it will not appeal to all tastes is a given, but to all lovers of dark horror-tinged movies it is a cult classic.
Played with the right note throughout by a convincing cast, the quality of script and direction take this film two or three notches beyond the same ingredients in a thousand other movies – and let’s face it, we’ve all seen the basic scenario dozens of times before. The inclusion of a couple of moments that have you leaping out of your seat in shock help greatly, but the content here is sufficiently compelling to keep you glued to the screen regardless.
Luckily, no moronic Hollywood happy ending has been tacked on, so the story reaches its own natural conclusion, a finely nuanced conclusion hewed from the twisted bones of the script – though no spoilers since the tension is racked up. Had any studio exec got his mitts on the rushes all might have been lost. Luckily for us, the version released hits the nail on the head… well anyway, you know what I meant. Bravo!