12. Seven

The distinctly dirty, bloody darkness of Seven permeates everything except an innocent blond played by Gwyneth Paltrow… until it oozes over her for an ending that hurts no matter how many times I see it.

As a mixture of police procedural, noir, and horror, this movie might be perfect. A telling scene cuts back and forth between Somerset, researching in a library, and his young partner Mills, reviewing crime-scene photos. Mills’s photos juxtapose with Somerset’s findings in books by Dante and Chaucer, ancient drawings of hell and demonic torture.

Their awful city goes unnamed. Somerset hates it and can’t wait to flee, but Mills actually asked to transfer in, because “I thought I could do some good.” Somerset knows what Mills will learn, that this is hell on Earth. They can’t do good.

Nothing in Seven could be described as “nice” except Tracy, Mills’s wife, a sweet beauty tragically brought to this dark place.

Jonathan Doe, whose murders elaborately interpret the seven deadly sins, is a righteously motivated man of shocking brutality, certainly one of modern cinema’s most memorable killers. (Kevin Spacey!) Yet he only arrives at the end; we never actually see him hurt anyone. Everything in Seven is aftermath. Cadavers. Stale blood. A bucket we’re told is full of puke. Dingy polaroids of slow starvation, or of the bladed sex non-toy that kills a hooker for the Lust murder.

And that box…

Seven has classic cop-flick formula stuff: the calm elder a week from retiring, partnered with a young, brash newbie with no patience. The magic comes from chemistry between the actors, Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt, and the script’s extreme twists on their archetypes. Somerset talks and acts like he’s DESPERATE to retire; at home alone, he listens to a ticking metronome as though counting down the minutes. And it is precisely because of Mills’s headstrong brashness that Doe turns him at the end into wrath.

Gods, that box. We don’t see inside, but Somerset does. He reacts, then Doe says what he’s done and all the pitch-black hopelessness of hell swallows Mills.

Somerset was right.

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