If there’s one thing that makes a thriller work, it’s not a diabolical plot or psychotic villain. That thing is plausibility.
What particularly struck me in Seven is the world it’s set in: I recognize it. It’s not a world I spend my day in, but it’s never far. I know it from newspaper chronicle, TV reports, historical accounts and sometimes my own unfortunate experience. People are afraid of each other and look behind their backs in this world. Nobody saw anything and nothing is anyone’s business in this world. Rain rarely stops and the Sun never shines through in this world. You could call it a noir world, if it wasn’t realistic to the point where it becomes scary.
Another stand-out feature of this film is the antagonist. I can’t even call him a “villain”, the term is too operatic. A typical movie villain relies on ingenious weapons, precise timing, IQ of 300 and unlimited supply of luck to carry out his evil deeds. John Doe has none of those, he is only methodical and patient. The difference is especially evident in the climax. If Seven was set in the Saw universe, there would be devilish traps all over the place. And traps we do expect, while following Somerset and Mills to their destination. But what happens is so simple, it’s terrifying.
This film may sound like a rather unpleasant one, and in some sense that’s correct. After all, it’s set in a kind of place where Kitty Genovese was killed (“Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police”). And yet, because it’s so real, I found I actually care for this place and its characters.