Back in 1992, David Fincher was still reeling from the awful experience he had making his first feature film Alien 3. After production was complete, he swore he would never make another movie. He eventually broke that oath a year and a half later when New Line Cinema sent him Andrew Kevin Walker’s early draft of a script for Seven (sometimes obnoxiously called Se7en). The rest is history.
“But Trace, why are you covering Seven, a mystery neo-noir psychological thriller film (according to Wikipedia) on a horror website?”, you ask? That’s because Seven is a horror movie. As our own Jonathan Barkan so eloquently put it last year: “It’s a serial killer that offs people based on the seven deadly sins. It’s gory, it’s horrifying, and it’s got an ending that still haunts people to this day.” Point taken, Barkan.
Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman and Gwyneth Paltrow may be the stars of Seven, but the real star is Fincher’s direction and Darius Khondji’s cinematography. It is only his second film but it feels like it could be his tenth. The film looks so dreary. From the crowded streets of Los Angeles (where the Seven was filmed, though the city in the film remains unnamed). The color palette helps matters, but Fincher’s decision to film Seven as simplistically as possible (COPS was used as inspiration) added to the crudeness of the film.
I won’t delve too much into the “is Seven a horror movie” argument, except to say that Seven is most definitely a horrifying film. Whether that makes it a horror movie is up to the viewer to decide, but I certainly view it as one. Most people cite the sloth sequence as the most disturbing part of the film, but for me it’s always been Leland Orser’s interrogation scene. That is a truly difficult scene to watch, especially when you learn how he murdered that prostitute.
One can’t discuss Seven without mentioning its sucker-punch of an ending. It is a bleakly poetic ending that still gets under people’s skin. Of course, that wasn’t always the ending of the film. It was in Walker’s original draft of the screenplay, but the studio was hesitant to use it, fearing that it would not be well-received by audiences. They made him re-write the ending with a more action-y ending Lucky for us, New Line accidentally sent Fincher the first draft of the screenplay with the head-in-a-box ending, and he fought for it. He even went so far as to make it a condition of him accepting the directing gig.
Even after filming, the studio remained concerned about the end of the film. They were so worried that they even tried to replace Paltrow’s character’s head with that of a dog. Apparently it was just a bit too depressing. Thankfully, Fincher still stuck to his guns and Brad Pitt stood by him until the very end, leading the studio to concede and release the film per Fincher’s and Walker’s vision.
It’s also worth noting that Spacey’s identity as the serial killer John Doe was not revealed to audiences until they saw the film (unless they read certain reviews that revealed this fact). It was a solid bit of marketing that showed the confidence New Line had in the film. Most studios would have put Spacey front and center, especially in a post-The Silence of the Lambs world. You almost wish more studios would show that kind of restraint nowadays.
Seven was released on September 21, 1995 and grossed a mere $13.1 million domestically during its first weekend in theaters. It would spend five weeks at the number one spot at the box office and go on to gross $100.1 million domestically and $227.1 million overseas. This coincidentally made it the seventh highest grossing film of 1995. It was also released to widespread critical acclaim. It currently sits at 80% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 65 on Metacritic. Richard Francis-Bruce was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Editing in a motion picture, but he lost to Mike Hill and David P. Hanley for Apollo 13. Seven did, however, win Best Picture, Most Desirable Male (Brad Pitt) and Best Villain (Kevin Spacey) at the MTV Movie Awards. So that’s something.
So grab a drink and celebrate the fact that Seven turns 21 today (or lament the fact that people born in 1995 are now turning 21). Either way, drink responsibly and pop Seven in the ol’ Blu-Ray player today. It gets better and better with each subsequent viewing.