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SEVEN (or "Se7en"… if you want to be an arse about it)

(Directed by David Fincher)

Has there been a more influential film in the overlapping world of horrors/thrillers? Possibly The Silence of the Lambs and a few others. But the grimy nastiness and sheer take-no-prisoners nihilism still invoke a brilliant uneasiness all these years later. Even the scratched-on-film and rusty opening credits surely influenced the aesthetics of later genre films like Saw, Hostel, and many others. And, although the goriness and shocks are mostly encountered in aftermath scenes, there's even an argument that it could be a candidate for the first "torture porn" (we still HATE that term) movie. Born from the frustrations that screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker experienced whilst working in New York City, the film went through a lengthy casting and production process, with many tweaks and studio squabbles. The actors Robert Duvall, Gene Hackman, Sylvester Stallone, Denzel Washington, and William Hurt were all considered for the lead roles before Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman came on board. Director Fincher was hurting after the reactions and tribulations from Alien 3 but found himself drawn to the deeper meanings of the narrative after he was (allegedly) sent the wrong draft of the script. It was the perfect unorthodox thriller for an unorthodox filmmaker.

Detective Lieutenant William Somerset ( a note-perfect Freeman) is an ordered, and educated cop working in the chaos and grime of an (unnamed) city who's just had enough and is ready to retire. He is partnered up with the brash, foul-mouthed, and ambitious Detective David Mills (Pitt being uncharacteristically un-charming), who has moved to the city with his melancholic wife Tracy (Gwyneth Paltrow, Pitt's real-life partner at the time). The mismatched duo becomes involved in a grotesque investigation where victims have been murdered in tableaus representing one of the seven deadly sins. An overweight man is force-fed until he literally bursts (Greed), another is tied to a bed and starved (Sloth), etc. The twists and turns confront the pair with hideous scenes until the climax reveals a sick masterplan. It is a brilliantly orchestrated tale, marked by its refusal to play by mainstream Hollywood rules. This was partly due to Finch and Pitt steadfastly sticking to their guns and demanding the darker aspects remain. "Whaaaaat's in the buhhhhx!?!"

By all accounts, Seven could have been just another cop-thriller, but the grim genre-tinged elements take it far beyond that. The two leads are skewed versions of cop stereotypes. Somerset is a black cop nearing retirement who DOESN'T die ironically at the end. He is also a brilliant academic who uses education to solve the riddles, usually too late to save anyone. Mills is a bit-of-a-douche; sweary, tone-deaf to Tracy's depression, impetuous, and a glory-hound. The ending (*spoiler alerts*) is far from happy, the killer is caught only because before he turns himself in, and the villain's plan is taken to its tragic "successful" conclusion. And yet it is so well made and enthralling, unlike other dark-edged films, it stands up to many successive viewings. The cast, includes some subtly underplayed roles taken by R. Lee Ermey and Richard Roundtree, and everyone plays their part perfectly. This includes the role of "John Doe", which is nicely played by an actor whose name is currently spelt with an "M", a "U", and a "D".

From a genre perspective, there are some superb shocks and set-pieces, and it is all perfectly balanced by Fincher's style of filming. The backstories of the film are actually legion; Pitt badly hurt his arm during the filming, and it was written into the story, the "Greed" actor become "glued" to the floor with the fake blood, an unfilmed sequence shows Somerset buy a country retreat, a subliminal shot of Paltrow's face is apparently cut into the end sequence, Pitt bought his own (intentionally) crappy ties for the character, etc, and indeed, etc. There are also a collection of brilliant sequences; "Sloth" being not quite dead (one of the finest ever cinematic jump-scares), the chase across the cars in the pelting rain, each grim murder tableau (and their gross little details), and the wonderfully orchestrated final scene when it all comes together. It wasn't an instant hit at the box-office; it was critically acclaimed and went on to become a "slow" success and a cult classic, often compared to the likes of The Shawshank Redemption and Blade Runner in terms of delayed appreciation. A fantastically mounted thriller for anyone with dark tastes.