David Fincher’s journey into the minds of serial killers

The ‘Fight Club’ director – who grew up under the shadow of the infamous Zodiac murders – tells Nev Pierce about his new Netflix series

Nev Pierce
12 October 2017
The Telegraph (The Daily Telegraph)

“I love Hannibal Lecter,” says director David Fincher, referring to fiction’s most infamous serial killer, from The Silence of the Lambs. “But he doesn’t exist when you really look into serial killing. He may actually be destructive to the understanding of who these people are.”

Few film-makers have “looked into” serial killing with the intense interest of this wry 55-year-old. His breakthrough picture Seven, which announced this one-time music video maestro as a major cinematic force with a flair for an indelible visual image, featured a serial killer (Kevin Spacey) who slaughtered people according to the seven deadly sins and a notoriously shocking ending that left police procedural clichés decapitated.

His best film is arguably Zodiac, a meticulous account of the frustrated attempts to catch the real life titular killer who terrorised California in the late Sixties. You could even argue – though this would likely bring a raised eyebrow from the director who also counts Gone Girl, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Fight Club on his CV – that the predatory Xenomorph from his ill-fated debut, Alien 3, is more dangerous even than Lecter, or that the reverse-ageing romance The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is really about the ultimate serial killer, Death himself.

His new Netflix series Mindhunter, however, is more grounded in reality than any of these projects. Yes, it deals with killers, but these aren’t gourmets or masterminds. Instead, inspired by the memoir of FBI agent John Douglas, it follows two agents (Holt McCallany and Jonathan Groff) as they interview convicted killers for insights to help them capture active murderers.

“I thought it was more interesting to see what makes a serial killer in real life, rather than turning him into a comic book supervillain,” says Fincher of the 10-part show, which is really about the birth of psychological profiling. “I thought a show based on conversations with the monster could be compelling, maybe in a new way. I was interested in the idea of not imbuing these creatures with a mythological power over us.”

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