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Want To Be Scared Stiff? ‘Seven’ Should Do It

‘Seven” could refer to the number of days until cop Morgan Freeman retires, or the seven deadly sins, or the total number of light bulbs used to illuminate this dark, unnerving, scare-the-pants-off-you thriller.

After I saw the movie, a friend who had seen it asked if I was OK, and I knew immediately what she meant. “Seven” is strong stuff, an unblinking look into the face of evil, and after you see it you may need a hug. It’s the most frightening movie since “The Silence of the Lambs,” so intense that you can’t take your eyes off the screen for a second.

Freeman and Brad Pitt play New York cops on the trail of a maniac who plans seven torture/murders, each centering on one of the deadly sins. Freeman’s a courtly, melancholy cop, and Pitt’s an instinctive hothead - their working methods are contrasted by cross-cutting between Freeman plowing through library books and Pitt banging his head against a pile of evidence photos.

The movie nails you with the gruesome horror of the crimes, but it grips you by showing their impact on the cops. Freeman, worn down by 34 years of humanity at its worst, can no longer bear his job. He gives a performance of dignity and gravity, perfectly balancing Pitt’s jazzed-by-the-thrill-of-pursuit hotshot, and the movie follows them as Freeman teaches Pitt what looking evil in the face can do to you.

“Seven’s” pace is relentless. Subtitles tell us what day it is and the days get shorter as the movie accelerates to its terrifying conclusion. There’s a dandy chase sequence in which Pitt and Freeman just barely miss a chance to stop the carnage, and the final scenes in “Seven” amount to half an hour of I-can’t-bear-to-look/no-I-have-to tension.

“Seven” is smart, but it also has humor and heart. Gwyneth Paltrow, as Pitt’s wife (she’s also his real-life squeeze), practically explodes with vitality and warmth, giving the movie a much-needed ray of sunlight. And there are unexpected flashes of humor, such as a high-tension moment when Pitt confuses the Marquis de Sade with lounge singer Sade.

In just a couple of instances, “Seven” gets a little too cute. The killer is played by a fine actor whose name we’ve been asked to keep secret, which is just a dumb gimmick - besides, if you listen closely to the ads for “Seven,” you can identify the actor’s distinctive voice.

Also, because everything in the movie is a clue and none of the clues are false, you’ll probably figure out where “Seven” is headed (if I guessed it, believe me, everyone can). It doesn’t matter. You figure out what’s going to happen and then, as you get closer to finding out if you’re right, you sit there hoping against hope that you’re wrong.

xxxx “Seven” Location:East Sprague, North Division and Showboat cinemas Credits: Directed by David Fincher; starring Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Gwyneth Paltrow Running time: 2:08 Rating: R