There are less than 20 gunshots fired in David Fincher’s 1995 film Seven, each exchanged between David Mills and John Doe. If you don’t count Detective Somerset’s late face slap, there is only one wounding act of violence committed onscreen. It’s an oft-shared description offered by cinephiles and aspiring screenwriters and critics: Seven is, in the most basic sense, a non-violent film, even as watching it feels like a very violent viewing experience. For most of its run-time, Seven, which this week celebrates its 20th anniversary, is a noir- serial killer thriller built around already murdered corpses rather than murderous acts. Yet, this basic quantifiable description feels misleading to anyone watching or re-watching the film, anyone caught within or recently escaped from the spiraling trap of the film’s increasingly unsettling, malicious scenes.
Seven is widely credited for displaying influence from prior detective films and inspiring several films of comparable serial killer concern, but few films in either comparative line have less character violence and yet even fewer give as distinct an impression of having witnessed something truly violent.