Se7en (1995) written by Andrew Kevin Walker and directed by David Fincher, featured an all-star cast including Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kevin Spacey. Some horror buffs consider Se7en to be one of the best genre movies of all time and are still up in arms that the movie never took home any major awards.
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched Se7en. But each time, in the final climactic scene, I find myself curling inward, as the movie’s delicious tension peaks and our pair of detectives have to open the box.
The beauty of Se7en is that it’s not actually a story about the killer, played so convincingly and chillingly by Kevin Spacey. It’s about Somerset (Freeman) and Mills (Pitt). At its essence, Se7en is a dark, atmospherically brilliant bro-mance.
The story begins and ends with the focus not on the killer or the crimes but on the relationship between the veteran Somerset and the up-and-comer Mills. If the movie focused primarily on the killer, John Doe, with murders this gruesome, we’d never get through the first half. But the beauty of the screenwriting is that we’re given not just entry point characters to the world but characters who we care about. And as the plot progresses, their lives become more intertwined.
For example, Tracy reveals her pregnancy to Somerset, creating a sense of intimacy with Mills that has nuances of the paternal even though Mills can’t be expected to know why. Of course this comes back into play in the ending, because it give Somerset a reason to care about the sixth murder.
One of the first rules of horror is that if we don’t care about the murder, then the death is meaningless.
But the brilliance of Se7en is that as the plot progresses, the crimes become more personal.
By the end, Tracy’s death and Mills’ arrest have a profound impact on Somerset. He can no longer enjoy his retirement. Beyond that, it’s affected his character arc, and indeed how he sees all of human nature.
Mills, of course, has been pushed into an action—murder—that at the beginning of the film, he would never have seen himself as capable of committing and he’s lost his wife and unborn child.
And Tracy is dead. So it doesn’t get much worse than that.
Well, maybe for Lust. That was pretty awful. But when a movie is this gruesome and riddled with tension, you stop keeping score on some things.
And the bro-mance is over. Mills is off to prison and Somerset is all alone… again.