Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Reel 20: SE7EN

“What’s in the box?!”

This month marks the 20th anniversary of David Fincher’s SE7EN. 

SE7EN (or SEVEN), a neo-noir psychological thriller, tells the tale of two detectives in an un-named city; a newly transferred David Mills (Brad Pitt) and a soon-to-retire William Somerset (Morgan Freeman), who get deeply involved in the hunt for a serial killer whose murders correspond to the seven deadly sins…gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, pride, lust, and envy. 

Often regarded as a modern classic, the many mystiques about SE7EN began with the screenplay. The film was written by Andrew Kevin Walker during his time in New York City; a city and period of his life which he found to be deeply dark and depressing. The ending of the movie, now regarded as the mother-of-all-twist-endings, which involved a certain character’s head in a box, was originally met with apprehension from the studio, New Line Cinema…who preferred a traditional detective thriller. But when the script was sent to director David Fincher, the version with the head in the box was still in the script and Fincher signed on to direct on that ending. When the mistake was realized, the studio balked, but, Fincher had found an ally in rising star Brad Pitt. Fincher was just coming off a bad experience with his film ALIEN 3 thanks to studio interference, and Pitt had just had a similar experience during LEGENDS OF THE FALL. Once Pitt joined in the fight to keep the head in the box scene, the studio gave in and history was on the way to be made. 

Filmed in crowded urban streets in which the weather produced an oppressing rain, Fincher and production designer Arthur Max created a dismal-looking film in which the surroundings reflected the inhabitants. The murders by the killer, known in the film as John Doe, played constant head games with the detectives and the audience…and the name of the actor playing Doe was kept off of the posters and marketing campaigns…adding a hefty amount of surprise and shock when he finally shows up near the end. The cast was rounded out by Gwyneth Paltrow, R. Lee Ermey (FULL METAL JACKET), Richard Roundtree (the original SHAFT), and John C. McGinley (PLATOON). 

Audiences responded to the shock and awe of the film. SE7EN spent four consecutive weeks in the top spot at the U.S. Box Office, and would finish as the (ahem), seventh-highest grossing film in 1995. It would earn an Oscar nomination for Best Editing, and Andrew Kevin Walker would be nominated for  a BAFTA for his screenplay. The American Film Institute (AFI), features the film on lists such as 100 Thrills, 100 Heroes and Villains, and Mystery Film. Film critic Roger Ebert featured it on his Great Movies list. SE7EN would put David Fincher’s star on the rise, and would send him on his way to make THE GAME (1997) and FIGHT CLUB (1999). 


SE7EN is a film which can fulfill many appetites, as it tends to land on many different tables; it is a police procedural, buddy-cop flick, and psychological head-game messer-upper with a touch of classic horror. Its ability to play in different genres makes it right-at-home in the bright summer months or the darkness of winter nights. It delves deeply into the minds of serial killers and the men who hunt them, making the screenplay a textbook for movie-making, and Fincher’s use of lights and shadows and sounds for a thick foreboding atmosphere making it a must-watch for every Film 101 class. The whopper of an ending, which in 1995 sent this Blogger and many others staggering out of the theatre, still has an impact during revisits today. SE7EN is indeed a modern classic, and belongs on the top shelf of every cinema-fan’s library. 


1995 was a special year in film. Click HERE to see Reel Speak’s review of the year. 

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