The night is dark and full of terrors.
I hadn't seen this since high school, and had forgotten almost everything except the first murder and the ending.
I had forgotten so much. It is a perfect example of letting the mind fill in the blanks to create an even more powerful effect than showing the actual violence. What we do see, the aftermath of violence, the characters' reactions, and the dark and disgusting atmosphere, is horrifying enough. The lust kill, for example, is something that could easily be included in a slasher film, probably very effectively, but showing it in this way creates a much bigger impact. From the moment the detectives walk into the dungeon crime scene to the moment the interrogations end, each sitting alone in separate rooms, the effect created is so much more alienating, horrifying, and visceral than the initial shock value would have been.
The production designer deserves all the awards. Every aspect of the mise-en-scene is perfect, but particularly the attention to detail in every set. The screen is just chock full of visual information and the interiors radiate a palpable psychosis. But there is no escape, even outside, where the unnamed city itself is almost a character. To leave the dark and claustrophobic rooms to go outdoors with its unceasing rain and an endless stream of cars, is no escape. Even at each detective's home, the environment fights its way inside. In a way, the city is responsible, and the killer is only an agent. This city is a cesspool of sin, allowing it to breed and overflow.
For me, the story works because of Morgan Freeman and his Somerset character. Somerset is world-weary, humanistic but with a realist's pessimism, and Freeman plays him perfectly. The character is still somewhat of an enigma; we don't know much about him, but we're intrigued. Pitt's character is much more of an established archetype, painted in brash, loud strokes. And the killer does not have to be present for most of the movie to be the most complete of the characters.
The cinematography is beautiful in its darkness. I found out that Se7en shares a DP (Darius Khondji) with Delicatessen and City of Lost Children (among many others). On my next viewing, I will pay more attention to the use of light, both natural and artificial. I like how light is used in the cinematography, but I also like how it plays into the film thematically - not only "shedding light on the case", but instances in which lighting fails to work for Somerset and Mills (the light switch, Mills' flashlight), and how the film ends in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by power lines, still stuck in the killers' game.