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Grindhouse Theology: “For All Have Sinned: Se7en and the Horror of Human Depravity”

Seven (1995) Brad Pitt as detective David Mills

The most compelling thing about horror, at least to me, is that it is one of the last pockets in the popular culture of modern, secular society that consistently takes evil seriously. This is especially true of representations of supernatural evil, something enlightened citizens of the 21st century don’t tend to think about in any other context, but horror portrays evil of all kinds in one very specific way that stands in stark contrast to most other genres. In horror movies, evil is sometimes triumphant. In horror, the victory of the good and the virtuous is not a foregone conclusion. In fact, in lots of horror stories, goodness and virtue barely seem to exist.

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge one other corner of cinema that deals heavily in evil as a major theme: film noir. Film noir is too slippery to define as a genre, of course. It’s more of a style that originates in a particular cultural moment in American Film. Its heyday came and went decades ago, but the mark it left was so indelible that, despite the complexities of defining it, we all recognize it when we see it (or modern homages to it). Noir films are mostly crime dramas in mostly urban settings with mostly cynical male protagonists who may be either criminals or crimefighters or some combination of both. A noir film may have only some of these qualities or even none of them. Nevertheless, film noir is distinguished by its visual style, which leverages contrasts between light and shadow to maximum effect through cinematography. But of course, this element of style goes far beyond the level of the merely visual. Film noir delves deeply into thematic darkness, as well. What distinguishes noir for me is its consistent willingness to gaze into the heart of human evil, and therein lies the potential for overlap between horror and noir.

Se7en, David Fincher’s 1995 masterpiece, is unmistakably neo-noir, but its obvious horror elements are not as widely recognized. It’s strange to look back now, after nearly a quarter of a century, and remember that this was only Fincher’s second feature, coming after a decade of directing music videos and his feature-length debut with the poorly-received Alien 3 (which he later disavowed). Se7en‘s unflinching stare at human depravity goes far beyond even the bleak cynicism of the average noir film. This story of two detectives hunting a serial killer through a squalid metropolitan hellscape as he brutally mutilates and tortures his victims in an evocation of the traditional seven deadly sins opens with stomach-churningly grotesque and builds from there. This is no mere “thriller.” Se7en is theological horror …

Read the rest over at Grindhouse Theology!

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~ by Jared on October 5, 2018.

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