Netflix Spotlight brings you Wicked Horror’s top picks for what to watch on Netflix, whether it’s the latest indie darling, a classic masterpiece or a silly slasher that deserves a little bit more attention. In this installment, Joey Keogh drools over the still-terrifying Se7en.
It’s hard to believe David Fincher‘s incomparably unsettling ode to the Seven Deadly Sins, Se7en, is twenty years old this year. The styling may have aged slightly, but the film itself still packs a serious punch, not least because of its horrifying ending–something which Fincher finds himself discussing on a regular basis even today, as certain fans remain convinced they saw a head in a box in spite of the fact nothing is actually shown.
Aside from that explosive ending, widely believed to be one of the best and most shocking in horror (it makes Saw‘s ultimate “twist” seem as ridiculous as it is), Se7en also boasts one of the greatest jump scares in the history of cinema. However, weirdly enough, the narrative is anchored by assured central performances from three of the greatest actors of our generation, one of whom didn’t even appear on any of the promotional material in case his casting gave away the identity of the villain (another well-placed shock, bravely delivered early on).
The premise concerns two cops, Morgan Freeman’s hardened Det. Somerset (due to retire at the end of the week, of course) and Brad Pitt’s mouthy upstart Det. Mills. They’re on the trail of a devious serial killer who is modelling his murders on the Seven Deadly Sins, in a consistently dark, rainy city that looks a lot like New York but is never explicitly referred to as such. Whereas many films alleviate the darkness with moments of humour, Se7en is assuredly and consistently downbeat, twisting the tension like a stomach knot as an unknown danger lurks on the outskirts constantly.The killer in question, known only as John Doe (memorably played with quiet menace by Kevin Spacey) is introduced over affecting opening credits, scored by the classic Nine Inch Nails hit “Closer”, and during which his bloodied fingertips press meticulously-cut clippings concerning the Seven Deadly Sins into display books. Much like the similarly disconcerting opening sequences to American Horror Story, this introduction immediately establishes a creepy atmosphere that doesn’t let up, even as the closing titles scroll.
At 127 mins, Se7en is a slow burner, and the notification of which day it is at any given point only makes its considerable length (by horror movie standards) more evident. Best watched late at night, with rain battering on the windows if possible, it takes a while to get going but this does wonders for establishing its dark, gritty, uneasy feeling, and the horrible first crime scene (based on the sin of gluttony) still shocks in how early it turns up, just as one starts to become comfortable with the narrative.
Fincher is a master of leaving things to the imagination, rather than showing everything, and Se7en is impressively bloodless for such a violent film. Despite the gruesome crime scenes, there is little gore. What is truly frightening about the murders themselves is the descriptions of them (a tactic also employed in his Girl With The Dragon Tattoo remake). As the cops discuss how people were tortured and killed, without ever showing so much as a cutback to someone screaming or a gun being held against a shuddering temple, I found my stomach dropping to my shoes as my imagination ran wild.
One particularly memorable shot, of a knife sex toy (used to kill a prostitute for the sin of lust), is so expertly slotted into the narrative that it’s enough just to see the weapon – the act itself is unnecessary, as we can all too easily fill in the blanks. The point being that, more often than not, what one imagines is far more terrifying than what one actually sees. It’s the mark of a good horror movie that nothing really needs to be shown for the audience to be completely and utterly freaked out, and Se7en is a wonderful example of how to employ this technique to maximum effect.
Although the religious overtones are a bit awkward at times, and the murderer’s lengthy speeches grow slightly tiresome, the premise is inventive and well-established. It’s worth noting that there hasn’t been a similar movie since, at least not one that packed quite as much of a punch as this one. The subject matter is rife for exploration in horror, but it seems unlikely anyone could possibly match the intensity or the terror of Fincher’s horrible vision.
Morgan Freeman puts in a wonderfully nuanced performance as the cop torn between wanting to help and dying to finally be free of the burden of solving horrible crimes, and Brad Pitt is more than capable of standing opposite. The murders are clever enough to be both horrible and fascinating, without the implication of torture-porn techniques. Se7en has stood the test of time remarkably well and it is well worth a re-watch, regardless of how long ago it last stopped you from sleeping (just me?).
Catch Se7en on Netflix NOW before it expires on March 1st