“SEVEN” SUCKED SO OTHER THRILLERS COULD SHINE
Seven is stiff because the motivation behind the serial killer is trite and contradictory.
You know that feeling when you are doing something just because you have to and you’re basically just forcing yourself through the chore? David Fincher’s Seven inspires that feeling.
Seven is long winded and boring. It’s painful to watch because like in The Little Things, screen writer Andrew Kevin Walker leans too heavily on insinuations and subtlety which is ironic if you actually watch the film. You’ll see, it’s rich in brutally, violence, and gruesomeness but, maybe because of the length of the film, the summation of all these elements actually wanes on you.
The 1995 film is like any other classic whodunnit. An Old-timer, Detective Somerset (played by Morgan Freeman) had one week left in his career before retiring, when he was assigned a murder case and trainee detective, Mills (Brad Pitt), along with it. The case was supposed to be about a simple murder but, it turns out to be meticulously planned and precisely devised to teach. The suspect was motivated by the seven deadly sins, dated moral wisdoms about vices to avoid in Christianity and so, by design, seven victims were expected early on. Somerset and Mills await a revelation as they dig into the serial killing chaos, but in the end, the suspect’s vision is discovered to be trite.
Incredibly, the film is so sluggish. We spend lots of time learning about Somerset’s character, his philosophical pessimism against Mills myopia as he functions as an accountant, fastidiously gathering evidence and information about cases to reserve for later. On the other hand, Mills eagerly operates on the code of hard-headed policing, naively believing that he’ll actually solve the cases he takes on. So, throughout their hunt for their serial killer, their opposing personalities is asserted when they bounce off interpretations on life, on policing, and how to understand the motives of their killer. This structure is rippled into modern crime TV shows, within shows like True Detective and Mindhunter but, of course, with better pacing and attention to balancing clichés.
Ultimately, Seven passes you over. Since one half of the duo, Mills, is unfledged, it hampers the narrative. He is such a cliché; he says corny one-liners, acts on impulse, and is so overcome by his need to be manly and dominate, he forgets himself most of the time. He’s the perfect prototype for a Martin Hart personality, as he lacks the charm, wit, and humor to be agreeable. However, Somerset is intriguing. Everything he says is worthy of pause and reflection, an Eeyore like character if you will, but although his words are sobering, it’s not enough to carry the film.
It makes it worse to consider that the larger meaning of Seven is stiff because the motivation behind the serial killer is trite and contradictory. Early on, the serial killer is heavily described as clever and exacting with valuable meaning behind his plan. His presence is meant to heavily weigh on the viewer, something like the joker or Thanos, whose malice, though objectively crude and disturbing, is rooted in calculation and a persuasion so convincing, it grounds viewers with a valence of a generally relatable discord with societal order. Thanos and the joker manifest support from their audience while engineering an internal conflict, designed to ease them into their charm and then their goal. When this is done well, during the entirety of a film, the villain would appeal to the audience while also causing them to resist their persuasion. In this case, the beginning of Seven teases this phenomenon and shrewdness, building the expectation of a greater salient motive behind the serial killer but fails to maintain it. The more he’s made human and digested, he becomes muddled, baffling, and frankly, manic. Nearing the end of Seven, the serial killer’s motive is sharp and unyielding in absurdity, randomness, and carelessness. He’s unable to thoughtfully defend his position so he spirals and defers to intimidation which derails the cerebral persona that had been owed to him earlier on. Eventually, this failing marks him and the rest of the film as vapid.
The ending of Seven feels nonsensical and it requires the viewer to fill in the gaps of the serial killer’s sloppiness, to allow for a larger meaning. With this lacklustre antagonist, it basically erases any trace of curiosity. For all these reasons, Seven is so poorly engaging, as you’re watching, there will be several moments in between where your hands will be drawn to your phone or when you’ll wonder how long you’ve been watching, only to discover that forty minutes have past. It’s shocking how dull it is and also, so disappointing since Freeman is convincing and deliberate with his portrayal of Somerset.
Admittedly though, the movie is a product of its time. At its initial release it spent four weeks at the top spot in US box offices probably because of its novelty. But now, with better TV shows and movies who have benefited from using its template, it requires a bit of indulgence to feel its appeal. Yet, its influence is undeniable. The opening sequence in which designer Kyle Cooper uses a series of glitchy cuts and frames, quietly tracing the menacing personality of the serial killer through bursts of horrific shots, was so radical, it’s been siphoned in nearly every psychological thriller since. Right now, Cooper’s efforts can be seen in the opening credits of TV shows like Mindhunter and Orange is the New Black. Essentially, the creative team for Seven crawled so that others could walk.