I understand the comparisons with Seven, as a product, but this is very different in intent, form and overall atmosphere. On the positive side, unlike David Fincher, Merhige seems to have genuine interest in this very confused project, trying to bring to the surface the few ideas contained in a terribly written script, concerning not only justice (as Seven believed it discussed) but mostly the devastating impact of the procedures on all those involved (and maybe the only time since Manhunter where the parallels between murderer and investigator don’t seem forced, but are the center of the movie), and not making the mistake of using it as a vehicle to exhibit your ability to paint pretty pictures and audience manipulation with plot twists that are nothing but easy effects. To bring that comparison further, if later in his career (in more mature movies) Fincher would observe and try to understand the underlying horror through superficial information, Merhige delves directly into the madness it suggests.
The problem is: Merhige, as a narrative director, is still stuck with literalness, with a mise-en-scène too dependent on symbols and conceptual abstractions (like his previous, more experimental works Begotten and Din of Celestial Birds), and never finds a balance between the straightforward thriller and these short interruptions where his ideas are fleshed out only through images, sometimes it ends up feeling like a disjointed music video, with little aesthetic coherence, his motifs or digressions are too emphasized for the whole movie to feel organic. And what is the point in hiring Michael Chapman if you want the movie to look like shit? It has a kind of a 70s’ exploitation feel, so it would probably work a lot better as a no-budget feature, shot in 16mm and all, at least would get rid of a few stylistic affectations or demand more craft with the stuff heavy on ugly filters and distortions that, again, do not help in visual cohesion. Also, Eckhart has the Jack Nicholson problem of looking insane right from the start, so any transformation is unconvincing at the end. But I still enjoyed this, gets more sympathy for commitment and general weirdness.