Released in 1995, David Fincher’s thriller “Seven” made history: by showing a serial killer who based his murders on the Seven Deadly Sins (pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth), the film was one of the most influential of the decade, giving rise to a small cycle of thrillers about serial killers very creative in their modus operandi.
25 years later, perhaps the Seven Deadly Sins no longer make sense for a new generation. We are talking about a generation that grew up reading comic books, and that has seen their favorite superheroes being adapted for film and TV, in a practically religious way, in these last decades. A new generation that has its own gospel in Marvel and DC comics, which cites the origins of heroes and villains as modern myths, and remembers magazine numbers and dates as if they were Bible verses.
This generation now has its own “Seven”: it’s the brilliant Spanish thriller “Orígenes Secretos”, or “Unknown Origins” in English. Directed by David Galán Galindo, the film received worldwide distribution on Netflix.
“Unknown Origins” deals with a mysterious serial killer who is terrorizing Madrid, basing his murders not on the Seven Deadly Sins, like David Fincher’s criminal, but on the origins of Marvel and DC superheroes.
In other words: inspired by Bruce Banner/Hulk, a skinny scientist is forced to work out while taking steroids and a pigment that leaves his skin gray (because in his first appearance in comics Hulk was gray). Inspired by Tony Stark/Iron Man, a seller of replicas of famous pop culture weapons is imprisoned in an armor and has his heart ripped out. And so on — finding out which comic book inspired the next crime scene is part of the fun.
As in “Seven”, a rookie cop named David (Javier Rey) is forced to join forces with a veteran-about-to-retire cop, Cosme (Antonio Resines), something that refers to the relationship between Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman in David Fincher’s thriller. Since neither is an expert on “nerdophilia”, Cosme decides to recruit his geek son, Jorge (Brays Efe), the manager of a comic book store, to help David with his knowledge in pop culture.
“Unknown Origins” follows “Seven” almost like a remake or adaptation, including the fingerprints that lead not to the murderer, but to a new victim, and the policeman who discovers the serial killer’s hideout, is attacked by him and saved at the last minute. And while in “Seven” the protagonist is forced to read St. Thomas Aquinas, John Milton and Dante Alighieri to understand the villain’s inspirations and try to anticipate his next step, here David must face dozens of comic books!
Aware of its main inspiration, director Galindo plays with it. When Jorge comments that there is no way to know how many murders the killer is planning, he says: “If only it was based on the seven deadly sins, it would be a lot easier”.
Galindo had originally written “Orígenes Secretos” as a book (left), published only in Spain in 2016. As revealed in an interview on the Golden Globs website, the story of the book arose from the frustration of knowing that in Spain he could never make a legitimate superhero film: “My big dream was always to make a great superhero story. But I knew that we are in Spain and we don’t believe in superheroes here. (…) In Spain what we believe are thrillers. That is why I thought the best thing was to treat the world of comics through a thriller — you know, ‘with a little sugar, you can give them the medicine’”.
And although it is not a 100% serious thriller like “Seven”, because it adopts a tone of satire and embraces the humor in the relationship between square David and geek Jorge, “Unknown Origins” has as essence the same idea of M. Night Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable”, or “Glass”, transposing a typical superhero adventure to the “real world” universe — the villain also intends to create his own nemesis, an authentic “super-hero” to fight him.
The most interesting thing is that, in disguising “Unknown Origins” as a thriller, the director ended up making a film that appeals to the two types of audience: both the nerds and geeks, who identify with Jorge’s character and will certainly find out in what comic book the next crime scene is inspired before anyone even explains, and the more skeptical viewer, that guy who doesn’t understand anything about Marvel or DC, hates superheroes and believes that the subject is extremely overrated.
Because while the movie was directed by an authentic comic book fan, and tries to humanize the geeks portrayed— Norma (Verónica Echegui), David’s superior in the Homicide department, has cosplay as a hobby —, sometimes it also analyzes this universe with a ironic look.
The scenes that take place at Planeta K, Jorge’s nerdy store, play with the clichés and stereotypes related to this audience, and Jorge himself is represented as a fat young man, with glasses, the butt showing up every time he bend down, and with no social life.
One of these moments creates an interesting discussion between “normal people versus geeks”. When an enraged David offends the customers of Planeta K, by claiming that they are losers, Jorge introduces them as dentists, pharmacists, judges, CEOs. “You were probably the cool kid at school who made fun of everyone, huh? Who dated the hottest girl?”, Jorge asks the cop. “Well, not here, dude. Sorry, in my shop the freak is you”.
Director Galindo is himself an avid geek, the kind who went to see the new “Avengers” movie in theaters dressed in Thor’s costume.
This is his first feature film, but Galindo had already directed several short films, including “The King & the Worst” (2009) — in which Marvel Comics legend Jack Kirby needs to join forces with Ed Wood, considered the worst filmmaker of all times, to save the world during World War II.
Some of Galindo’s quotes and jokes are easy to spot, especially the cameo of a look-alike from the late Stan Lee, Marvel’s legendary editor — “I didn’t want to make a superhero movie without Stan Lee’s cameo”, he explained.
Other references aren’t as universal: many characters were named after the publishers of Marvel and DC comics in Spain and Mexico (Novaro, Vid, Brugera and Norma).
Playing with a universe that, for many, is already showing signs of running out of ideas, “Unknown Origins” proves that it‘s’ still possible to tell good stories with the same elements that Marvel and DC have eternalized in their comics, or in their film adaptations. Even in Spain, a country that doesn’t believe in superheroes — as Cosme says at one point, “In England, stories were written about King Arthur. Here, it’s Don Quixote. We’re more preoccupied with madmen”.
“There are never too many superhero movies because they are not one genre”, argues Galindo. “You have horror, a lot of comedies, adventures. They are a mechanism for telling stories of different genres. Of course, I prefer superhero movies that are not ashamed of being superhero movies. And there is nothing to be ashamed of”.