“The Little Things” Is The Copycat Killer Version of David Fincher’s “Se7en”

John Lee Hancock’s new serial killer thriller starring Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, and Jared Leto sticks closely to “Se7en” with the big things, as well as the small.

“It’s the little things that are important. It’s the little things that get you caught”, Deputy Sheriff Deke (Denzel Washington) tells Detective Jim Baxter (Rami Malek) in The Little Things. Deke is in L.A. from Kern County running an errand and ends up consulting on a case that Baxter has been working for several months. Someone has been kidnapping women, toying with them, then stabbing them to death, and Deke immediately notices parallels to a case he never closed, back when he had Baxter’s job. It’s at this point, then, when anybody who has seen David Fincher’s Se7en also starts seeing the parallels.

Released in 1995, Se7en begins as Detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) walks in on the grisly crime scene of another detective, William Somerset (Morgan Freeman). They eventually become partners in crime-solving. Mills — young, white, and ambitious — plays second fiddle to the older, black, and worn-down Detective Somerset, as does Baxter with Deke. Each detective begins investigating the case on their own, but they ultimately come together after they start to identify with each other (and because the bodies start piling up).

How each pair of detectives get to their man — when the victims are women, the suspect is always a man — is the ride of their respective movies. Where Se7en surprised audiences, though, was that the detectives have their prime suspect sitting in an interrogation room acting guilty as hell, with plenty of movie runtime to go. A similar thing happens in The Little Things, but it’s not as subversive as it was in 1995 and there is no scene equivalent to that of the truly haunting “DETECTIVE” scene in Se7en.

HBO Max The Little Things, John Lee Hancock, Denzel Washington, Rami Malek, Jared Leto

By this point the detectives know something is up. It’s as if this was all part of the plan and the suspect is only sitting in front of them because that’s where he wants to be. Because the detectives know there are victims they’ve yet to find, they’re forced to play along. Their guy has them hooked. He eventually brings the detectives out to the middle of nowhere, isolates the younger, frustrated, and hot-headed detective, and provokes him until he knocks the detective down from his moral highground.

Se7en concludes with Somerset saying “Ernest Hemingway once wrote, ‘The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.” Part-way through The Little Things, Deke tells Baxter “When I see a sun rise, a thunderstorm, the dew on the ground, yes I think there’s a God. And when I see all this, I think he’s long past giving a shit”, referring to the latest crime scene. The climax of The Little Things plays out the same way as it does in Se7en, and the character arc of Deke also ends in the same place as Somerset’s: left right where we first met him, his cynical world view now having receieved further reinforcement.

All of that being said, watching The Little Things is no chore, primarily due to the gravity of Denzel Washington, but also the menace exuded by Jared Leto — a menace perhaps only trumped by Kevin Spacey as Se7en’s John Doe. The similarities to Se7en are abundant, but if you’re gonna rip off a movie, it might as well be the movie that helped define the genre. In the case of The Little Things, perhaps the copycat killer was paying homage.

The Little Things (That I Noticed Were Replicated From “Se7en”)

  1. A box central to the plot.
  2. Both Albert Sparma (Jared Leto) and John Doe provoke the detective to attack them by launching a thinly-veiled threat about their family, which we meet earlier in the movie when they have the older black detective over for a meal.
  3. Both Albert Sparma and John Doe get the detective to drive them to the middle of nowhere on the premise of bringing them to a yet-to-be-found victim.
  4. Both pairings of partners consist of a younger white male detective (Yes, I know Rami Malek is part Egyptian) and an older black detective, and their racial difference doesn’t factor into the plot in any way, explicit or implicit.
  5. Detectives in both movies cross paths with their primary suspect early in the movie before identifying them as the primary suspect.
  6. Detectives in both movies illegally break into the primary suspect’s house to look for clues.
  7. Both movies are 127 minutes.

I strive towards a career that ends up leaving me somewhere between Howard Beck and Howard Beale.

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