I’m not a big murder mystery fan, straight forward crime procedurals leave me a little cold, so for a film or TV show in this genre to impress me it’s going to require one or more of three things; a fantastic concept, a brilliant script or great central performances.
‘Seven’, the 1995 film from David Fincher qualifies on all counts. The concept is superb; an insane but incredibly intelligent killer is carrying out killings based on the 7 deadly sins and the way those murders are realised are as clever as they are gruesome. The script is strong; drawing on the traditional relationship between the old cop and his younger partner the dialogue is great between the two, with Morgan Freeman’s aging detective William Somerset laconic and cynical compared to Brad Pitt’s enthusiastic and fast talking David Mills. What makes this film the fantastic piece of cinema that it undoubtedly is however, are the performances of Pitt, Freeman and the actor who plays ‘John Doe’, the murderer who believes he is delivering a message about society and it’s tolerance for sinning.
I’m deliberately not saying the actors name because if you haven’t seen the film already, the revelation is all part of the cocktail that builds up throughout the film, making you feel permanently uncomfortable and unsure.
Freeman and Pitt are brilliant, they give fairly standard genre roles charisma, passion and believability and I would argue are perhaps the absolute ideal actors to play those two roles, especially at that point in their careers. Pitt especially fits the role; he was just making his move towards being a name a film could be launched on, just as Mills is making the step up to being a lead homicide detective.
The identity of Doe isn’t revealed until a long way into the film, ensuring that we never know any more than the two detectives, yet the character is so utterly chilling and calculated that you end up forgetting that he’s barely in the film; it feels like he was there watching all the way through.
It’s a grim film overall, set in a generic American city where it never seems to stop raining, and the film is shot with a palette of varying shades of grey, helping to create the unrelenting sense that this, as Somerset argues around the halfway mark, can’t possibly end well.
Fincher creates an intensely uncomfortable atmosphere throughout, ‘Seven’ takes place in a world of seemingly unrelenting melancholy and cruelty and it is against that backdrop that he gives the audience the scope to use their imaginations; he goes for the psychological horror rather than the slasher, never showing the actual murders but merely the hideous aftermath as the detectives investigate. The audience are asked to think how a person could do such things, to try and picture it themselves, rather than shown and I’m a big advocate for a person’s imagination always being a more effective tool for delivering powerful horror than playing it all out in front of them.
It’s not an easy watch, nor a happy one, but often the best cinema isn’t the films that give us nice straightforward plots, good guys in shining armour and bad men wrapped in shadow or endings where everything is wrapped up in a neat little bow. Sometimes the best film endings come in more disturbing packaging.
Today's song is off of the new Bon Iver album, which on the first listen is a marginally more upbeat offering after the haunting, beautiful and melancholic sounds of their debut album, 'For Emma, Forever Ago' but still relies on delicate, gentle vocals to carry the songs.