The Collector. 2009. Directed by Marcus Dunstan. Screenplay by Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton.
Starring Josh Stewart, Andrea Roth, Michael Reilly Burke, and Juan Fernández. Fortress Features. Rated 18A. 90 minutes.
It’s only natural to see why people try to say that this movie is a Saw knock-off.
First of all, anything involving traps now will forever be likened to saw. Reviews like to use the (idiotic) term someone coined, “torture porn”, to try and describe similar films.
Second, The Collector is directed by Marcus Dunstan, as well as the fact that its screenplay was written by Dunstan and Patrick Melton – both of whom did a couple Saw films. In fact, this was intended to be a sort of prequel, or who knows what kinda-quel, but I assume the producers wanted nothing to do with it.
Now, we’ve got The Collector. I don’t think it’s “torture porn”, nor would you ever catch me using that god damn ridiculous made-up term. I know what the people using it are getting at, but I think it’s a) the cheap way of saying what you don’t have the better words to say, and b) nonsense because some horror movies are just more brutal and depraved than others. Yes, some horror just goes either over-the-top or too vicious to the points where you’re thinking to yourself, “Okay let’s get the rest of this over with…”. However, there’s other horror, the real effective stuff, the fun stuff even, that uses it in the right sort of way.
I find The Collector is in the latter section of horror films – it’s brutal, but a hell of a lot of fun. In a twisted way.
The movie opens with Larry and Gena Wharton coming home from a night out. They’re laughing, seemingly they’ve had a few drinks and a bit of fun. Upstairs, the older couple find an antique-looking trunk. Inside… horror. Then from out of nowhere, they are attacked from behind.
Cut to Arkin O’Brien (Josh Stewart): ex-con working as a handyman in the home of the rich Chase family – Michael and Victoria (Michael Reilly Burke/Andrea Roth), along with their daughters Hannah and Jill (Karley Scott Collins/Madeline Zima). Unfortunately for Arkin, his wife Lisa (Daniella Alonso) owes a debt and the sharks are asking for their money – they need it tonight, she says. Arkin’s wage as handyman, even for such a rich family, does not cut it.
Turns out, though, Arkin has been casing the place. There’s a ruby worth a ton of money inside the Chase house. Arkin rushes the job and heads out to the house that night in order to rob them. There, he discovers a masked man – The Collector (Juan Fernández) has rigged the place with traps and other horrors. In the main bedroom, Arkin discovers an antique style trunk, and inside: Larry Wharton. The older man is in bad shape, he warns Arkin that “he always takes one“. The family is all either incapacitated, or eventually killed. Arkin tries to save who he can, but The Collector has so many surprises in store for him.
Immediately, there is a tone to the film I thought worked extremely well in making things creepy. For me, it was a combination of the look and feel of the scenes and the score.
Dunstan uses a great colour scheme that makes it feel like an old school genre picture. There’s this green-ish/yellow v. blue thing going on at times (as you can see in some of the pictures I’ve included), and I liked how it made things look. Not only that, there’s almost a grainy layer over the camera’s lens in a lot, if not all, of the scenes. I like it, Reminds me of the look David Fincher chose to go with for Se7en. Together with the choice of that green/yellow and blue pattern, almost muted and blurry colouring, the grain of the film makes things look dark and gritty. Super fitting for the way things play out.
Now – the score. I would say, for this movie, the score works perfectly. I knew of Jerome Dillon before now, simply because I’m Trent Reznor’s biggest fan (maybe not realistically I just love his music and have for 20 years). Dillon did amazing work with Nine Inch Nails – my favourite being on And All That Could Have Been and With Teeth. Dillon’s use of an industrial sound flows well in combination with Dunstan and his gritty visual style.
One of my favourite moments of the film, in terms of music + directing, is when there’s softer, friendlier sounding music playing while Dunstan gives us a montage of shots showing The Collector’s carnage, the blood, the fury he has unleashed throughout the house; something about the juxtaposition of that sweet sound, soft guitar riff and vocals, against the terror and the bodies – it works horror movie magic!
A lot of good moments work effectively with the music – and not in the way certain horror movies, like the 2012 remake of The Woman in Black, employ the jump-scare with strings to literally jolt you, which I consider a cheap way to do things. Dunstan and Dillon make things unsettling in a great fashion, their collaboration makes this movie come off in the right way on more than enough occasions that it’s a significant part of why the whole film works.
There’s very little in this movie I would say is written poorly. Not even a handful of scenes, in my opinion.
One sequence, though, I found particularly dumb: when older daughter Jill Chase (Madeline Zima) comes home with a boyfriend, they seem to just not notice a thing until The Collector is spotted, creeping in the dark while the young couple starts to get frisky; meanwhile, I thought the entire house was filled with traps and devious devices to really fuck someone’s day up. I guess it was an effort on the part of Dunstan and Melton to try and either add a shot of breasts (Zima gets her chest let loose for a few seconds before Mr. Collector is seen), or maybe it was simply the fact they wanted a way to have another member of the family be killed onscreen instead of just tied/locked up somewhere in the house. Either way, I thought it was a bit dumb.
However, they did save themselves a little. Poor Jill meets an awful end (as seen above), and I thought it was pretty gnarly in the best way possible. Junky lead-up, but a good horror movie kill indeed.
Overall I have to say the characters aren’t developed much, if at all. Outside of Arkin, honestly there’s no real development of any other character. I really do like Arkin, and I’m not even a big fan of Josh Stewart – but he plays it well. We get to see a good bit of him in terms of character, not enough of the family. I cared about Arkin as a character, but when it came to the family I sort of felt apathetic; there wasn’t enough time to get to know these people before they’re locked up in the house and being messed with/tortured/killed. With Arkin, we see bits of his family, the tough time he and his wife are obviously having. There’s also the moments with Arkin where we see him talking to the youngest Chase daughter, even the older one, and he genuinely seems to be a good guy. So I connected with him, whereas the family didn’t get enough screen time for me to be invested in them. Certainly – SPOILER AHEAD – I suppose that’s why Arkin is the character who goes along to the sequel, along with The Collector obviously.
Most people try to pick holes through the story of the film, but me – I know when to suspend disbelief. Sure, something like this would probably never happen in real life. It’s like a reverse Home Alone where Joe Pesci and Danny Stern break into the McCallister house before they could wake up to go to Paris, and they terrorize Kevin along with his family using booby traps.
But it’s scary. For me, anyways. I thought The Collector was a great horror villain. And even though I personally enjoy some of the Saw franchise, I find The Collector more entertaining. In Saw a lot of the people Jigsaw was taking were some messed up people – not all of them deserved that craziness, but some of those “victims” of his were awful sketchy. With The Collector, as opposed to Jigsaw, he’s active in the murder of these people – that’s what makes him a badass horror villain, more so than Jigsaw. He doesn’t let people ultimately decide their fate; he breaks in, kills with his contraptions and traps and gadgets, then The Collector takes someone with him along to the next house of horrors.
Yeah, you have to suspend some disbelief. Certain horror is meant to be realistic, other stuff is not – The Collector is an all-out horror, balls to the wall, but it isn’t meant to be the story of a real serial killer. The main villain, for me, is up there with some of the iconic guys. I wouldn’t put him next to Michael Myers. I would, however, put him next to Jason and Freddy both at times – even though I love those two and they’re ultimate icons of horror. I just think The Collector is interesting. Very interesting. So if suspending disbelief at times has to happen, I’m all for it. Because this isn’t meant to be one of those raw and realistic bits of horror, not like a found footage movie tries to be (notice I did emphasize the verb ‘to try’ because not all of them can achieve that goal) or something like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. This movie is meant to be visceral, gritty, and fun in the most disturbing sense of horror.
For me, I’ve got to say this is a 4 out of 5 star horror film. In my books, there’s not a whole lot more Marcus Dunstan needed to do on his part as director. Although there could’ve been a few tweaks in the script – I thought the parts with the daughter/her boyfriend didn’t make enough sense because the whole house seemed booby trapped and everything yet they were unaware so long, plus Dunstan and Melton could have given the family more depth than they were allowed (I connected with Stewart’s character because he had a decent little backstory while the family felt flat), I think the weakest element is the acting. Again, Stewart was good, but I didn’t particularly think anyone else stood out – other than Juan Fernández, who is beyond creepy as The Collector. They are the main characters, of course, I just did not feel like the supporting cast held up their end.
Either way, it’s a great little film that came out of nowhere. I’d seen a brief synopsis about a year before its release, but nothing much else. Then once it dropped, I was blown away. I also enjoyed The Collection, its sequel, and I’ll be doing a review for that one soon, as well.
Check this out if you haven’t, hopefully you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this tense and intense horror-thriller.