Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.” I agree with the second part.
Why this movie? It’s not a slasher (like Sweeney Todd and Scream), it has nothing supernatural or otherworldly; it’s more a thriller or crime drama. So why exactly this movie? Because it has the worst monster of all—the worst parts of human nature unchecked by reason or compassion. People are theoretically capable of some truly horrific things. Luckily most people have reason and compassion in enough amounts to keep them from becoming evil, maybe not enough to become paragons of virtue, but certainly enough to keep them from doing terrible things. (Although I won’t deny history is filled with otherwise reasonable people giving into their worst fears and inclinations to commit terrible atrocities…and always in the name of virtue, of progress, of the state). But this movie shows what happens when it’s not a whole group justifying their viciousness through some kind of utilitarian excuse; this is an individual who has reached this viciousness on his own.
And the problem is that the writers put some fairly seductive half truths in what he says (because the devil wouldn’t be the devil if he didn’t know how to make a lie sound like the truth):
Only in a world this shitty could you even try to say these were innocent people and keep a straight face. But that’s the point. We see a deadly sin on every street corner, in every home, and we tolerate it. We tolerate it because it’s common, it’s trivial. We tolerate it morning, noon, and night.
And what makes this even more seductive is that it parallels what the character of Somerset, played by Morgan Freeman, feels throughout the entire film. That the world is getting worse. That humanity is leaving the human race and all that is left is a degenerate filth that passes as human beings. The fact that the city, in every scene, is poorly lit, it’s constantly raining, and the walls of every building falling apart behind the chipping paint. It almost seems that the world isn’t going to Hell, it’s already there. (I don’t necessarily agree with this view of the world, I actually think it’s getting better, but that’s not exactly here or there for this film).
So if we’re already in Hell, doesn’t there seem to be some kind of perverted justice in the act of the killer? No. Let me be clear, I’m saying the writers clearly wanted it to have the tone of seduction, but they have no illusions about what is right and what is wrong. Because while the killer and Somerset complain about the same things, Somerset works throughout the movie to make the world better, to try and educate others, to try and enlighten. He is a man of reason and compassion. He recognizes the problem, but chooses to respond by trying to make the world better.
The killer on the other hand just destroys. Yes there are times in life where violence is called for and there are times when we feel that treating the scum around us with said violence might be a great stress relief, but most of us don’t give into that. We vent and move on. The killer of Seven took it upon himself to meet out punishment to those who were not harming him directly (and the only two who were harming others were the drug dealer guilty of sloth and the lawyer guilty of greed, and in both cases their crimes would have warranted prison, not death). The killer in this movie wanted to say his sin was envy for the normal life of Brad Pitt’s character, it wasn’t, it was something that doesn’t even make the list of the seven deadly sins, it was an obsession with vice instead of virtue, with cursing the darkness instead of lighting a candle. That and he was batshit insane.
As a horror film it works because it shows what our darkest inclination might look like if stripped of all that is good in us.