The s were a time of confusion in the world of horror, and David Fincher’s masterpiece Seven is a perfect example of what all that confusion was about. At a time when the term ‘horror’ was synonymous in the public eye with nothing more than masked maniacs and deformed monsters, Seven presents an interesting challenge to the popular-yet-narrow definition of what constitutes a horror movie. Though marketed as a ‘thriller’ as opposed to a straight-up horror film, Seven nonetheless contains some truly disturbing imagery and a number of shocking scenes; certainly enough to warrant the title of a horror film. And, regardless of whether you consider the film a horror movie or a thriller, there is no denying that Seven is an absolute modern classic.
From its groundbreaking and trend-setting opening credits sequence all the way up to its shocking final moments, Seven is a harrowing journey of a film, taking viewers deeply into the hearts and minds of its two protagonists, as well as the twisted thoughts and visions of a psychotic killer. Few horror films – or films of any type, for that matter – convey a tone, a ‘feeling,’ as well as Seven. The film is two hours of dread, pain, disgust, and shock; a non-stop sense of general malaise, made even more believable and tangible by three outstanding performances by Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, and Kevin Spacey. Andrew Kevin Walker’s first screenplay is one of the most amazing, riveting pieces of scriptwriting of the past twenty years. Director David Fincher shows a genuine passion for creating beautiful films, crafting each and every meticulous shot of Seven with extreme care and thought. Simply put, it’s one of the most spectacular films of s, and possibly of all-time.
But is it horror? That’s the burning question, one that has been raging ever since the film was released in . At a glance, it’s easy to dismiss the horror moniker simply because Seven doesn’t follow suit with the common notion of what a horror movie is. This is not a film about a guy in a hockey mask killing off cardboard teenage characters, nor does it concern an alien terror or ancient creature threatening mankind’s existence. There are no vampires, no werewolves; no revived corpses, no demonic possessions, no ghostly hauntings – none of the things we’ve become accustomed to seeing in a horror film. Furthermore, at the time of Seven’s release, using the word ‘horror’ to describe a film in the press usually meant certain box-office death, as no one but kids and teenagers wanted to go see horror movies. Hence, New Line Cinema avoided any association between Seven and ‘horror,’ choosing to market the film as a thriller – a genre that was practically created by Seven and has gone on to become a staple of modern cinema.
Still, though the film doesn’t follow the usual pattern or contain any of the common trappings of the genre, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it isn’t horror. Instead, Seven represents an entirely different kind of horror film. There are no masked killers or vampires or deformed monsters because they aren’t needed — the monster that is the human being can be quite horrific enough. Why would we need big, ugly monsters, when the world is filled with people who act like ugly monsters towards each other? There’s no point in a film with another masked killer stalking innocent teenagers, since, as the killer John Doe explains in the film, there really are no innocent people. The horror of Seven is not about supernatural terrors, but rather the terrors of the human soul — the sinful nature of humanity as a whole, and what it has done to the world we all live in; a subject that is, frankly, far more disturbing and terrifying than anything in most of the films we consider ‘horror’ movies.
Horror or thriller? Call it what you will, Seven is undeniably one of the most unnerving and unsettling films of all-time, a timeless modern masterpiece that is as relevant today as it was at the time of it’s release (and will no doubt continue to be just as relevant). With no exceptions, this is a film that needs to be seen by everyone, everywhere. Few films have ever managed to tackle the notion of just how cruel people can be to each other and the world around them, and none have ever done it with as much style as Seven.