Film scores

Soundtrack review: Se7en (expanded) (Howard Shore – 1995, 2016)

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“Seven” (sometimes stylized as SE7EN) is a 1995 American mystery neo-noir psychological thriller film directed by David Fincher, and stars Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, John C. McGinley, R. Lee Ermey, and Kevin Spacey. The film was based on a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker. It tells the story of David Mills (Pitt), a young detective who is partnered with the retiring William Somerset (Freeman) and soon tasked with tracking down a serial killer (Spacey) who uses the seven deadly sins as tropes in his murders. I don’t think that are many people who don’t know this movie, one of the darkest and most brilliant of our times. It made a great impact on me and I’m still drawn by its magnetism anytime I watch it again. Howard Shore wrote the score and, coupled with some brutal and skin ripping Nine Inch Nails songs they were as efficient in the context of the movie as the persistent rain. Until now the music was only available in bootlegs and that only added to the indescribably dark and uncomfortable mood, because of the sound. It’s 2016 and Howards Shore’s Howe records finally puts out an official high quality version that includes 61 minutes of music.

Strangely enough before playing it I was worried that a cleaner sound might take away some of the edge this score had. The constant background noise that I kept hearing in the movie and on the bootlegs felt just like that endless rain. So here I am listening to a melodic and almost romantic opening theme “The last seven days” which does not make me think of Se7en at all. It’s just an illusion though as the magnetic darkness that makes me addicted to the world of this movie hits me in “Gluttony”. I’ve always marveled at Howard Shore’s musical range; every time I listened to “Se7en” or “Copland” I couldn’t believe that it’s the same guy who wrote “Big” and who went so magnificently epic and even joyful in the “Lord of the rings” realm.

The hopelessness of the music is so opaque that it doesn’t just make me feel as if I’m trapped in a box; it makes me feel as if the lid on top of the box is hitting me and squeezing me. In that box there are sharp things that waste no time in hurting me. And yet I love this score and I can’t turn away from it. There’s a strange feeling of calm as the music suffocates me. It’s the bliss of letting go. The occasional warm moments like “Mrs. Mills” are still tainted by the same darkness as hope is absent from the music.

Despite the music lacking themes Howard Shore write it in such a way that I can recognize it instantly. It’s like a rolling black hole that comes closer and closer and swallows everything; this is not just dark fate accepting depressing music…it’s a composition that hurts and peels and cuts and lets me know that the suffering will not end so soon. “Se7en” is all this and I’m addicted to the way it sounds. As cues like “Sloth” or “Library” roll on I remember the scenes from the movie, I remember the blinding pain of the final revelation and the constant doom which is as unavoidable as it’s comfortable.

Fans of Shore’s “Lord of the rings” and “Hobbit” trilogies will recognize here the thick and heavy darkness that made those scores legendary. The theme for the main antagonist “John Doe” is written and performed in the same epic tone as the Middle Earth themes for villains and 10 or 20 years later the motif is still as effective and intense. This 6 minute cue made instantly made me want to listen to “The hobbit: the desolation of Smaug”. I think there’s something wrong with me if I can feel such exhilaration and addiction to a piece of music like this.

One hour later and I am very happy to finally have a proper release of this score. I’m sure I will listen to it quite often.

Cue rating: 96 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 50 / 61

Album excellence: 82%

Highlights:

The Last Seven Days

Gluttony

Linoleum

Somerset

Greed

Help Me

Sloth

John Doe

Apartment #604

The Wire

Envy

Wrath

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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