Friday, February 19, 2010


*mild spoilers*

THE COLLECTOR offers no explanations as to the origins of its seedy antagonist. The writers who penned this film know the playbook too because they have mentioned in all of their promotional materials that they wrote SAW IV, V, and VI. Unfortunately, what they have presented to us this time around is almost completely unfair to the audience. THE COLLECTOR presents a creative, sadistic killer facially encased behind an uncomfortable-looking polyester gimp-mask. He is cut from the classic Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, Michael Meyers sort of Leatherface, aggressive killer cloth.

The film starts with a drunken middle-aged couple returning to their house late at night. The camera’s view of the house is obscured by a construction site with a lot of caution tape hanging about. Upstairs they find a large travel trunk. The power for the house has been cut, and there is an unnerving thump from the trunk. The man, against his wife’s will, opens the case, and the scene ends abruptly with a scream as he is rushed by a figure from behind.

What follows are some intense opening credits that directly reference the intro credits of SE7EN, right down to the pounding industrial music. There are flashes of this Collector guy dragging his trunk, house blueprints, and spiders. As the film progresses, we do learn backhandedly that the Collector is an exterminator. The insects also seem to reference the Buffalo Bill killer in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. But unfortunately this aspect of the story (and its hypocritical nature because he seems to actually like insects) is never really developed at all.

THE COLLECTOR’s plot is mostly concerned with an ex-con named Arkin (Josh Stewart) who decides to rob a couple, Michael (Michael Riley Burke) and Victoria (Andrea Roth), for whom he has been doing window-work. The robbery is the result of multiple points of pressure put on Arkin, most noteably his from his bitchy ex-wife Lisa (Daniella Alonso). Arkin is presented as a generally good fellow who is willing to sit and play tea-party with the couple’s young daughter, Hannah (Karley Scott Collins). But then again, he is also willing to share a cigarette with their older, more sensual teenaged daughter, Jill (Madeline Zima).

The setup of Arkin connecting with the daughters is cynically in place so that he can later attempt to protect them. Michael and his self-botoxing wife Victoria are their throwaway parents that never really connect with the audience, even when they are screaming for their lives.

The film doesn’t really kick into gear until Arkin breaks into the house and starts working over the safe upstairs. The dressed-in-black, masked Collector has already been at the house for some time, however, torturing Michael and Victoria downstairs. He has also left a series of vicious booby traps throughout the house. How vicious? The chandelier is festooned with butcher knives, waiting to drop. There are also fish hooks dangling at eye level, and there is a thick patina of acid on one of the floors. Viewers will also have to wrap their heads around spring-loaded wires that wrap, drag, and throw victims into all sorts of trouble. Some of the depraved kills in THE COLLECTOR manage to one-up ugly exploitative films like SAVAGE STREETS. Oh, and that ominous traveler trunk is there too, thumping.

In truth, the amount of time to lay out all of these traps probably would have taken a construction crew a solid workweek to implement. Some of the shots within the house have so many wires crisscrossing the scenery that the effect is that of spiderwebs. This Collector guy has even added extra deadbolts to the doors.

If there is a hole in THE COLLECTOR, this would be it. Of course, knowing the writers of the SAW films, there probably isn’t just one Collector on the loose. We do at one point see the Collector (Master Trap Exterminator) in his exterminator garb earlier in the film, working on Michael and Victoria’s house with his face obscured by a ventilation mask. He seems to have an apprentice at this point. However, the inevitable sequel will have to straighten that question out.

The rest of the film is riveting. The second and third acts of THE COLLECTOR have been finely tuned to stress the viewer completely out. Finding and saving little Hannah is the main reason why Arkin chooses to stay in the house and put up with the Collector’s headgames. The shift Arkin makes from petty thief to the only possible savior this family has is fascinating.

Arkin is on the make for the goods in the safe for as long as he possibly can be. In the process, he takes some serious booby-trap damage. Meanwhile, the Collector inflicts some brutal torture-porn atrocities on those that he gets his hands on. There is a heavy amount of blood and creative splatter in this film, coupled with multiple reasons like Arkin’s midnight stolen-goods exchange meeting and a 9-1-1 call, for the viewer to want to know what time it is in the film. What lifts THE COLLECTOR out of the standard horror pile is the nonstop urgency of it all. Arkin has to keep quiet and play headgames of his own in order to stay one step ahead of the Collector, and truthfully, it is a hell of a lot of fun.

It is no mistake that Arkin’s showdown with the Collector smacks of Schwarzenegger’s screaming match against the alien in PREDATOR. THE COLLECTOR is alien in all respects. He has no fear, and I put this on the policeman’s neck he snaps. He is completely remorseless. He is also a weirdo. What the hell is a jarful of Madagascar cockroaches supposed to do if held to a wound and then heated up with a lighter? No idea, but this is how the Collector likes to get down. It is as if he is actually some form of an insect. The spider motif that is running through the film (multiple scenes are built around spiders crawling in various places and the “webs” that people need to avoid) obviously fits the bill, but a little more on the Collector’s arachnid obsession would have driven this point home perfectly. The closest that we get to this truth is when the Collector eyes a spider in the rafters of the basement and then lets it out of a window. This is his only moment of tenderness in the whole film.

The Collector is a cruel badass, and Arkin rises up to the challenge and meets him with his own level of badassery. The parallel is a cool one. Who has the strongest will? THE COLLECTOR pits two seriously stubborn, flawed individuals against each other in a high-class mansion and lets them go at it. Some of the tactics are far from original (like the velociraptor fake-out from JURASSIC PARK), and other methods are bang-on, like Arkin’s “freshman pranking” of the Collector’s dog.

While there is a supreme lack of explanation as to what drives the perverse Collector to do what he does, there is no question that he is very good at it. There is also no question that this film is a testing step in the waters of a franchise. THE COLLECTOR has had a lot of underground press surrounding it and a limited theatrical release which has further stoked the curiosity fire. This is a film that had a lot of thought put into it. THE COLLECTOR is some solid horror entertainment, and when the imminent sequel drops, hopefully there will be more of an explanation of who this guy is and what he is all about.

-Mediasaurus Rex

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