In anticipation of his new film, The Killer, coming to Netflix on November 10, I tip-toed through the tulips of my favorite director’s filmography and came away thinking that if David Fincher ever decided to fully wade into the waters of the horror genre?
We’d all be in deep shit. In the best of ways.
Here are the most messed up and depraved moments of David Fincher’s career… so far.
Hugging Ed Kemper – “Mindhunter” Season 1, Episode 10 (2017)
David Fincher has an amazing way of taking a simple moment and making it more intense than drinking Mountain Dew while snowboarding over a volcano. He made a movie about Facebook and it’s one of my all-time favorites for Christ’s sake.
In this scene, we have a simple conversation between two men in a hospital room that still somehow leaves you looking for Ray Finkle and a new pair of shorts. To be fair, one of the parties of the conversation does happen to be actual serial killer Ed Kemper (played amazingly by Cameron Britton). The other, slightly drunk and totally on the verge of a major freak out, is FBI Agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff).
There’s a lot that’s led to this moment but for brevity’s sake, Holden has made the stupid mistake of letting Kemper think they are friends. He’s in Kemper’s hospital room sitting in a chair mere feet away from this horrid creature. Suddenly, the security guard who’s supposed to be watching over them disappears as if Agent 47 from the Hitman games just tossed a coin across the room for him to investigate.
Kemper instantly jerks up and towards Holden with the violence of a car crash. From inches away he then calmly explains to him in a reasonable manner that all the women he killed would be his in the afterlife for eternity and that he could kill Holden right now and that they too could be together forever. Holden is obviously completely losing his inward shit at this moment and starts to have a live action panic attack right there. Kemper then wraps his shockingly huge arms around him and holds him.
Finally, Holden’s fight or flight kicks in and he fights his way out of there with all the confusion of The Weeknd backstage at the Super Bowl. By the time he makes it to the hallway, the panic attack is full blown as Led Zeppelin’s “In The Light” kicks on and he falls to the floor. The scene carries both the obvious fright of being trapped alone with such a troubled and physically intimidating person who possibly means to do you harm and thanks to Groff’s performance, a very realistic depiction of how horrifying a panic attack can actually be.
Bad Traveling – “Love Death and Robots” Season 3 (2022)
The only animated project Fincher has ever directed comes in season three of a Netflix anthology show he produces called Love, Death & Robots. In the episode, a ship of crew members is traveling through an alien sea. Within the first five seconds of the show opening, a gigantic monster crab (probably about the size of a Tesla SUV and almost as ugly) climbs on board and starts brutally ripping the crew to pieces with one claw whilst shoving whole bodies into its cram-hole with the other.
The “Super-Shredder” crab eventually uses the husk of one of its victims’ gore-torn bodies to communicate Independence Day style that it wants two things: More meat (“Me eat meat”) and passage to an island full of innocent victims. To eat.
I’m not a huge animation guy myself and therefore didn’t expect much when I turned on this brisk (just over twenty minutes long) episode. Then I found myself recoiling in the recliner in horror with a fresh new fear of crabs; completely engrossed by how squishy animation can make a man’s crushed skull appear, preparing my nightmares for the way they Tetris their bodies into hidey holes. I never needed to know that their mouths worked that way.
Somehow, Fincher was able to translate his trademark aesthetic of beautiful darkness to this complete and utter shit-show-splatter-fest (it’s a compliment). He uses the freedom of animation to flex his horror and gore muscles in a way we’ve never seen before. It’s everything you’d want a gnarly monster flick directed by the guy who made The Social Network to be. Bad Traveling is gorgeous to look at and completely fucked on the inside.
The Stabbing by the Lake – Zodiac (2007)
A couple is laying by the lake on a beautiful day when a man dressed in a nightmarish black hooded outfit and carrying a gun comes seemingly out of nowhere, walking straight towards them. He speaks calmly and tells them he only wants to rob them. He tells them that just escaped a prison in Montana and will hurt them “if he has to,” knowing damn well he’s going to tie them up and stab them to death.
In an extra layer of cruelty, the killer makes up a whole new persona to put them at ease. All so their shock would be true when he did what he was inevitably going to do. The killer pretends if only for a moment to walk away, giving them just that extra glimmer of faint hope before pulling out a large knife. It’s similar to some moments in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games where the killers would pretend to leave only to return again, using hope as a weapon in itself. He stabs the man in the back multiple times before moving to the woman and stabbing her all over as she screams.
This scene is an attack of the senses. The indifferent silence of the countryside against the screaming and muffled sounds of the knife doing what a knife does leaves you with a pit in your stomach. The visual evil acting out on screen betrays the beautiful setting around it and disrespects any sense of peace it once held. Finally, the physical state of the victims as they were being stabbed (face down with their arms tied to their ankles) adds a violating physical vulnerability that makes your soul squirm. As simple as the scene seems on the surface (how many times have we seen a knife murder in horror?), it somehow feels darker than any other.
Fincher once again flexes his horror muscles with the extremely suspenseful basement scene towards the end of the film that definitely deserves a mention.
What’s in the Box? – Seven (1995)
It’s understandable that “scary” may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the shocking ending to Fincher’s Seven. I can’t escape the thought, however, that it just might be the most frightening moment of his filmography when you put yourself in Detective Mills’ (Brad Pitt) shoes.
He’s in the middle of nowhere, seemingly in complete control of the situation with the suspect John Doe (Kevin Spacey) in shackles, his partner Somerset (Morgan Freeman) and a helicopter full of swat guys at his back. He’s even comfortable enough to even make fun of John Doe, hilariously saying, “You’re no messiah, you’re a movie of the week. You’re a fucking t-shirt, at best.” Through much of the movie, I feel like Mills is how the audience would imagine ourselves being in this situation. As Somerset tells him earlier in the film, “It’s impressive to see another man feeding off his emotions.” While Somerset was judging him immensely at this moment, I sympathized with him. Which makes what comes next all the more gut wrenching.
As you probably know (if you don’t, please go watch Seven right now before you read further), the severed head of Mills’ wife (Gwyneth Paltrow) is delivered in a box as her killer gloats to Mills that she begged for her life “and the life of the baby inside her.” All this with the hopes that Mills would give in and become “wrath,” shooting him and completing his vision.
In the same way the grief of Hereditary gets to so many of us, the true horror of this scene is watching Mills process loss in real time. He goes from complete control to losing it all in an instant…. and there’s absolutely nothing he can do about it. As the person who did it gloats to his face. Not only is this scene one of the greatest movie endings of all time (and truly the scene that made me fall in love with movies) but it’s an absolute nightmare for anyone who’s ever loved someone. It’s the kind of dream that brings you face to face with your own helplessness and the volatility of the world around us that makes you want to wake up and hug your loved ones.
What fresh horrors await from Fincher? The Killer comes to Netflix on November 10.