Posted: 07/31/2009

 

The Collector

(2009)

by Jason Coffman




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I’ll make this easy for some of you: if you’re a fan of the Saw films, you’ll probably like The Collector. Thanks for your time.

Still here? OK.

The Collector has sneaked into theaters after a last-minute ad campaign started ramping up in the last few weeks. It’s opening wide, which is surprising given how little prerelease hype there has been. Banner ads started to appear recently on various film sites, proudly announcing that the film was made by the writers of Saw IV, V, and VI. These gentlemen— Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton— first came to the attention of the horror community as the writers of Feast. They’ve become hot properties, even attached to the troubled Hellraiser remake, and now they’ve been given a shot at launching their own franchise with Dunstan directing from a script co-written with Melton.

The result? Well, The Collector is basically Saw with a little Halloween and a dash of Home Alone thrown in— a hybrid of what many critics call “torture porn” and the traditional slasher movie, with a fully booby-trapped house. The styles don’t really mesh all that well, though: The Collector feels like it’s completely assembled from off-the-shelf parts, and someone forgot to get the characters until everything else was already done. It even looks and sounds like a grainier version of the Saw films: it looks like they borrowed the same lighting crew, but they shot this one on 16mm (which does give the film a pleasingly authentic grindhouse feel). I was really hoping Dunstan and Melton would deliver something with more of its own flavor, but The Collector seems more like a repository for stuff they didn’t get to do in the Saw movies.

After a promising little opening sequence, the film moves into the story of Arkin (Josh Stewart), a contractor working on remodeling a house for a wealthy family. The family is planning a trip out of town for a couple of weeks, and dad Michael (Michael Reilly Burke) sends Arkin off with a little extra payment to help him out with his young daughter. Arkin leaves to meet Lisa (Daniella Alonso), his… girlfriend? Wife? It’s not really made clear, which is typical of this film’s treatment of its characters. Anyway, Lisa owes money to some loan sharks and Arkin, as it conveniently turns out, is also a jewel thief. He’s been casing the house he’s been working on and knows Michael owns a gigantic stone worth a lot of money. He decides to return to the house that night to take the stone to get the cash to help Lisa.

Shortly after he enters the house and starts cracking the safe, Arkin hears footsteps. Naturally, it’s The Collector! The Collector and Arkin sneak around avoiding each other, and Arkin discovers that at some point during the last few hours between his leaving the house and returning, The Collector has rigged every single room in the house with incredibly elaborate booby traps. When Arkin finds the room full of dozens of bear traps, the line is officially crossed into Looney Tunes territory: whoever this Collector is, he buys in bulk from the same catalog Wile E. Coyote shops, and he’s as quiet and efficient as a entire construction company staffed by ninjas.

From this point on The Collector moves into and stays firmly planted in predictable slasher film territory: the family is chained up and tortured, Arkin sneaks around avoiding traps trying to save the little girl Hannah (Karley Scott Collins) and The Collector wanders around doing mean stuff and taking a lot of punishment. He’s curiously lacking in personality— he has creepy eyes, and a hole cut out of his mask for his mouth, but he has no lines and apparently the only thing the hole is for is so we can see him licking his lips while watching a gratuitous sex scene unfold in the kitchen.

Maybe the most remarkable aspect of The Collector is the sheer contempt it displays for the audience— the characters are barely cardboard, the traps are utterly ludicrous, and some of the action is cut so fast and hectic that it’s hard to tell what the hell is even going on. Mix this with graphic torture scenes and old slasher standbys and you’ve got a film that barely registers as anything more than a checklist of Why People Hate Modern Horror Films: it substitutes gore and torture for suspense and tension, there are no characters of any substance (or even interest), and there’s that ever-present brand of pounding industrial metal that stuffs every Saw soundtrack. Well, maybe that last one is a personal issue.

Horror fans who aren’t too disgusted by its reliance on “modern” horror style will at least find some amusement here. For all its frustrations, The Collector delivers a few cheap thrills and the makeup and gore effects are all well-done. Anyone else will be just fine giving it a pass— this isn’t the kind of horror movie that changes anybody’s mind about the genre.

Jason Coffman is a film critic living in Chicago.



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