Kevin Spacey shuffles. His blood-splattered back like a murderous ode to Pollock edges into the shot, filling the frame. It’s a move that he nailed to perfection in two of 1995’s “sting in the tail” films, each spinning their narratives the moment he sidles into the shot. His feigned limp lapses into a confident stride signalling the twist in The Usual Suspects - the greatness of which we’ve already debated. In Seven his actual appearance provides just as much mystery as the plot point his arrival denotes. The masterful slow-burn reveal of Spacey as Keyser Soze is just that: masterful. When Doe is revealed as Spacey it’s equally as jaw-dropping. David Fincher constructed a stunning build-up to his unmasking, but that’s not why - it’s because no-one knew he was even in the film.
Would that feat be possible to pull off today?
David Fincher recoiled from the harrowing experience he had on Alien 3 by refusing to read any screenplays for 18 months. His lack of appetite is summed up in his response to Fox’s behavior toward him on the set of his first studio picture: “I thought I’d rather die of colon cancer than do another movie.” New Line sent him Andrew Kevin Walker’s script for Seven and that all changed, as he told First Showing:
“It was as impressive to me that Kevin Spacey would show up spattered with blood at the two hour point of that movie as it is that Janet Leigh gets slashed to death in the shower in Psycho. It was such a different way to spin that top. So that was amazing.”
Keeping Spacey off-screen (unless you count his earlier fleeting appearance as a reporter) for most of a movie wouldn’t fly today. Nor would his absence in all marketing efforts. Then again, the other jaw-drop moment in Seven’s final act probably wouldn’t either, and even then it very nearly didn’t make the cut. See, New Line slipped up when they accidentally messengered an earlier draft of the script to Fincher. It featured the brutal ‘head in a box’ ending — and Fincher loved it. Studio heads quickly tried to pawn him off with later versions of the screenplay, that bypassed the revulsion of a decapitated pregnant woman inserting a rote action sequence instead. Pitt and Freeman stood by Fincher and refused to film unless Gwyneth Paltrow lost her head. They won, and the dastardly plan of John Doe came to a close in the most harrowing manner possible.
Casting an eye over the film, its influence over the rest of the serial killer genre is still detectable in every single shot. Its meticulous construction is down to Fincher, channeling his frustration at Fox into making a taut thriller that Alien 3 sadly never was, along with Andrew Kevin Walker’s strong writing. The same year Copycat came out — a dud in comparison that I still adore regardless — Seven tore it up, relishing the grot and gloom of Doe’s victims, the dreary unnamed metropolis without a hero and only sinners in need of saving. By the time Spacey saunters into that crowded police precinct, carrying all the bravado and confidence of a recently de-virginized nerd, you’re halfway to agreeing with his sanctimonious backseat rantings.
Had Seven been released today the moment Spacey surrenders and the head-in-a-box discovery would struggle to issue the same impact. Because the manner by which we consume movies is so vastly different to how it was 20 years ago.
As part of a generation who traipsed down the cruddy hallways of multiplexes and lingered in their foyers gaping at the posters hung from their walls, I’m staggered by the volume of pre-release information circulating on the next year’s worth of features. Previews ahead of a main attraction used to be a surprise. There were no teasers for the teasers with handy embed codes and share bars. Projectionists spliced trailers onto the front-end of new releases and that was where audiences saw their first look at coming attractions. Not via illegally-captured set photos and videos.
(I remember vividly watching this trailer in the cinema, with my friends, when I was 14 knowing squat about Godzilla)
The ‘twist era’ of the nineties worked due to the restrictions of its technological environment, a suitable era for those cunning plots to remain on a tighter leash. Leaps in technology that have us transfixed before countless screens, jabbing our digits at the endless information mere swipes away — none of that existed. You could watch an entire movie at the theater without the intrusive glare from an idiot’s cell phone. And by the time you reached home to your trusty desktop PC you’d be hard pressed to get a decent dial-up speed, never mind have the desire to trawl the ‘net for spoilers or upload video.
Together with fan-boy journalism and blogger scoops, both of which are a spreading sect of online movie coverage, unauthorised, unverified spoilers are everywhere. A shaky smartphone video or image from a distance might show an actor in a mo-cap suit - which is immediately shared, pored over, and analysed. Deconstructing a completed work before it’s fixed is even getting to the stage where it intervenes with the finished product. Scooping character details, cast information, and teaser videos then applying it to throwaway comments given in interviews by actors is a type of detective work. Put in the hours and you may uncover just exactly who Jared Leto is torturing in the Suicide Squad trailer. Yes, Seven is an original piece not based on a comic book franchise, but the big names attached - especially Brad Pitt - would attract plenty of attention from paparazzi blasting blurry pics of him on set across the web.
Spoiler culture has undoubtedly taken over the internet; both the information being ‘spoiled’ and the critical responses to ingesting the information. As Entertainment Weeklyabou points out in their breakdown of the spoiler rules — itself a historical document from February 2014 — things that previously wouldn’t be considered ‘twists’ are subjected to the all-caps SPOILER ALERT caution. Another thinkpiece on the same topic asks why people grow sour and angry over alleged spoilers for things that happened years ago. We’re not just talking about the fact that Game Of Thrones existed on the page decades prior to its TV debut — Stephen King’s already got that covered. This is stuff like The Jinx, an HBO miniseries based on high-profile events that actually took place. You can’t demand spoiler alerts on reality, people!
Immediate reactions to films have to be swiftly avoided for multiple reasons; if you don’t want to know who appears in the all-important post-credit scene, if you simply wish to enter the cinema untouched by the opinions of others, and lastly, if you don’t even want to know the full plot. Three unassuming requests, that are impossible nowadays. On the TV front it’s equally as tough terrain, many folks are taking a ‘Twitter abstinence’ until they’ve watched the latest episode of their favorite show.
Networks and studios sometimes don’t need help in sabotaging their own material. AMC dropped a meme to Facebook after a pivotal episode of The Walking Dead aired on the East Coast, confirming the death of a major character before West Coast had chance to even watch the episode. Paramount decided the only way to make Terminator Genisys palatable was to remove the element of surprise by unmasking its villain in the trailer.
Disney has even got in on the action, with Star Wars hysteria reaching fever pitch this week over the Force Friday toy unveiling. Dialogue from action figures has been squeezed for any new tidbits of information on a film that’s not out for four months.
So if Seven were weeks away from release in 2015 would New Line keep Spacey’s involvement under wraps? Or would they be the first ones to post a “What’s in the box?” meme to Twitter and Facebook?
And ask you to share it.