1995 saw the release of a film that would dramatically change the meaning of the word “thriller”. This film would serve as a prime example of how to grasp a viewer’s attention, and still have them staring at the screen long after the credits have ceased, contemplating various elements of their own existence. No, I am not referencing the acclaimed Babe movie, or even Batman Forever (though that movie left you left you contemplating the future of cinema much more so than your own existence), but the psychological thriller Se7en.
For those of you unfortunate enough to have neglected your own well-being and NOT seen this movie, Se7en stars Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman as two detectives as they follow the case of a sadistic serial killer who bases his crimes around the seven deadly sins. That’s unfortunately as much as I can divulge in terms of plot, as an unspoilt first viewing of this movie can have you on the edge of your chair, making frantic hand gestures at your television, perhaps even uttering the odd swear word.
Aside from the intricate plot that I’m doing my best to avoid mentioning, what makes Se7en so special? Unfortunately this decade so far has spawned a relatively dry patch in the production of genuine psychological thrillers – movies that can mentally grip you, but also have a substantial depth to make you use that noggin of yours. The idea of a thriller has been diluted so much that it now is essentially a very predictable one-way plot, littered with various deaths or chase scenes along the way. It has now become the film equivalent of visiting a historical museum and being captivated by how shiny one of the exhibits is.
There are few things more satisfying when watching a movie than being able to quickly acknowledge that the creators have put genuine thought into their product. The characters have been fleshed well and have a substantial depth to them, but what makes them unique (well nowadays) is that this is not shown strictly by what the characters simply say, but by their attitudes, their reactions, and their phrasing. The viewer is not simply spoon-fed all the information, but rather can pick up on details or decide on ideas or aspects that may not have even registered with other viewers.
The film follows a tradition that has gradually been forgotten since the turn of the millennium in movies – that of not over-indulging the viewer on a visual level. Victims of the serial killers endevours are seen after their violent encounters, so while the viewer still sees things graphically, it only adds to their imagination of the horrific encounter. This is drastically different to the more modern psychological thriller franchise Saw for example, where as each film evolved, the appeal became focused more and more on the visual acts of torture rather than the plot, and so led to a gradually more diluted plot in the later movies.
The film has also aged rather well, an aspect which we tend to neglect in older films. The smokey unnamed city where the film is based has an indescribable appeal which perfectly fits the plot (almost a cross between an Industrial Revolution London and a contemporary New York), and the library scenes have quite a nostalgic, romantic charm, showing a time before a reliance on computer-ridden systems.
Even years after my first showing of Se7en (curiously, it was shown as a treat in a Religion class in school, which probably broke way too many rules), I still find myself returning again and again, discovering minute details that I may not have picked up on before. Hopefully, more thrillers will discover that they too can be both entertaining AND intelligently crafted. But until then, Se7en reigns supreme.