I’m not an angel. That’s too bad. Because there’s something I really need to take up with God so that He can publish a biblical addendum, something that occurred to me while watching Seven. It’s simply not enough; an eighth deadly sin is needed: “smugness.” That’s the sin made by so many filmmakers. That’s the sin David Fincher committed in assuming that this slogging detective drama constitutes entertainment.
The premise is admittedly compelling, but it takes more than a concept, a few mangled bodies, and a contrived twist ending to make a good horror movie.
A hyper-intelligent serial killer is committing a series of bizarre murders. The main evidence he’s leaving at the crime scene is the name of one of the deadly sins. For starters, there’s a mound of flesh of a dude who was forced to eat his own spaghetti, then suffocated in it (Gluttony); a mercenary lawyer whose own blood is used to spell out his sin of “Greed”; and a pedophile who’s been tortured and kept alive for a year (Sloth). On the case are Detectives William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and David Mills (Brad Pitt), who have been brought together by Mills’s transfer from another department. The film takes great—and superfluous—pains to delineate the differences between the two men. Somerset is brooding and laconic, and Mills is an impetuous hothead. That is, like most characters played by Brad Pitt (e.g., Aldo Raine from Inglourious Basterds), Mills whines and rants like a pre-pubescent twerp.
The two psychokiller hunters schlep over to the library and check out various books containing references to the seven deadly sins—The Canterbury Tales, Paradise Lost, Dante’s Inferno. While they pore over their research notes, I start wondering whether this is a movie or a veiled paean to Great Books programs. I smile, though, when I see Brad Pitt skimming the Cliff Notes versions. That makes sense at least.
At one point, the two dicks (double-entendre intended) head over to Mills’s house for a homecooked meal fixed by his equally airheaded wife (Gwyneth Paltrow), who has the unremarkable talent of getting people to laugh when nothing’s funny. It’s easy to perceive what they saw in each other. Blonde Bimbo—meet Dumb Jock. We’re supposed to pity her for marrying a city-slicking, danger-seeking detective and becoming big with child, but wait a minute . . . why is she even in the movie?
That’s easy: because the film has stars, and stars are attractions. A cast comprising Pitt, Freeman, Paltrow, and Spacey is sure to draw ’em in. Add to that some pseudo-shocking gore and pretentious literary allusions, and you have a recipe for box-office and critical success. To be fair, Spacey (Glengarry Glen Ross, The Usual Suspects) and Freeman (Driving Miss Daisy, Shawshank Redemption) are normally brilliantly nuanced veteran actors who shouldn’t be discussed in the same sentence as Pitt and Paltrow. But even their performances seem more hesitant and studied than usual. I sympathize with them. It’s hard to act when excitement’s this scarce.
On that note, it mystifies me that anyone would find Seven scary or thrilling. Perhaps it’s supposed to represent a cross-breed of the horror and thriller genres, but I found most of it to be presented coldly and clinically, like watching a coroner dissect a dead body. It’s not really a detective mystery; that would have had more potential. It’s more like a reenactment of events scrawled in a police log. Sure, maybe Fincher has adopted a more cerebral approach, but intelligence doesn’t have to be served up inside a soporific pill.
Rather than this snoozefest of a would-be thriller, I recommend James Wan’s Saw, which has often been criticized for being derivative of Seven. There’s some truth to that, but allow me to come quickly to its defense by repeating the oft-cited truism that all movies are derivative and some ideas are intelligent but poorly executed. Though Saw‘s sadistic torture scenes might nauseate the gore-squeamish, that film focuses more on the victims’ agony and struggle—since, as opposed to the victims in Seven, they often aren’t dead when we meet them. That fact alone serves to create greater tension. Seven, on the other hand, removes us from the intensity of the killing act and compels us to see the killer’s world from an investigator’s ultra-linear, evidentiary perspective. If I wanted that approach, I’d watch Cops or CSI.
Joe’s Grade: C