From Movies

THE COLLECTION Could’ve Been a Contender

The Collection. 2012. Directed by Marcus Dunstan. Screenplay by Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton.
Starring Josh Stewart, Emma Fitzpatrick, Christopher McDonald, Lee Tergesen, Tim Griffin, Andre Royo, Randall Archer, Shannon Kane, Brandon Molale, Erin Way, Johanna Braddy, and Michael Nardelli.
Fortress Features.
Rated R. 82 minutes.
Horror/Thriller

★★1/2
collection10My love for The Collector is strong, but I’m not so much a fan of The Collection. This sequel, though a good deal of fun, is not a great one in terms of doing anything smart.
What this sequel does is give us more of the evil Collector and his disturbing traps/kills, and it gives us more horror. All the while sacrificing good characters for amping up the scope of The Collector’s murder spree and his prolific status.
There were instances of characters lacking development in the first film, which I think carry over, even worse, to its sequel. Even further, The Collection is intent on adding more characters than are necessary to fill up the movie instead of maybe focusing on less characters that could have been fleshed out a bit more – a lot more, if I had it my way.
Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton essentially tried to go bigger with the scope of their villain, but instead of making things more interesting and intense, it mostly just made me roll my eyes.
There are a few things I did enjoy, they made the movie a decent bit of fun, but in the end Dunstan wasted the potential of The Collector as a new iconic horror villain in the sea of horror movies out there. While this movie absolutely makes The Collector into an even scarier sort, the creepiness in this sequel doesn’t come close to that of the original, trying to rely more on gore and increasingly intricate traps/set-ups within the villain’s hideout. Instead, there needed to be less reliance on new characters and stories and more focus on Arkin; he’s the whole reason things seemed to continue, he’s in the movie as a lead actor, I don’t know why they couldn’t have honed in more on him to make the whole story stay interesting.
the-collection-2012-gunThe Collection begins after Arkin O’Brien (Josh Stewart) has been taken by The Collector, following the events of the previous film.
We see a young girl and her father, Mr. Peters (Christopher McDonald) sitting in the back of a car as they drive. The father promises to always be there for his daughter – right before they’re t-boned and the camera cuts away.
We also see some newsreel footage of different television stations reporting on the murder spree of The Collector, even brief descriptions of his M.O, et cetera.

Skip ahead to the young girl from before, she is now grown: Elena Peters (Emma Fitzpatrick).
One night Elena goes to one of those real hip parties where it’s in a seemingly abandoned warehouse, or some other equally dubious place (I don’t know why any real people actually do this sort of thing but in reality – they do). There, everyone dances and parties and has a great time.
Then, once Elena goes to the bathroom, there it is: the antique trunk. Inside, of course, is Arkin – the newest addition to The Collector’s collection. On release of Arkin, this triggers a foolishly elaborate trap killing just about every last person inside the building, shredding flesh and bone to bits as it works through a drunk and ecstasy’d crowd (no doubt) dancing their hearts out.
Arkin manages to make it out of the building alive, but unfortunately Elena gets taken by The Collector.
Once in the hospital, Arkin realizes his family is still in danger. He tells them to stay away awhile. Then, a man named Lucello (Lee Tergesen) comes looking for Arkin, asking for help to track down the man who took Elena; her father, Mr. Peters, is wealthy and has a team assembled to find where the man brought her.
Reluctantly Arkin goes along, and once they find The Collector’s lair, he is forced to head inside with Lucello and a team of mercenaries. Within those walls, they have no idea what to expect, and things devolve into nothing except chaos, blood, and death.
3My problem with The Collection, as opposed to the first film, is that there’s too much going on. Already in The Collector, Dunstan and Melton focused too little on developing the characters of the family; while Arkin got proper treatment as a character, they did not. It’s a little worse in this one, sadly. Dunstan and Melton opt to include the new characters of Mr. Peters and his daughter Elena, even with a heavy backstory as they have, yet they’re not given as much depth as Arkin was in the first film.
The part that makes this such a downfall is the fact that Arkin is still a huge part of this film; he is the basic reason for the sequel, as the first movie ends with an excellent scene after the credits that pointed all signals go for a potential sequel. And it wasn’t like a cheesy, post-credits plea to say “we really want to do another movie”, it was just a great, disturbing finale to a movie. It came off unsettling.
But Dunstan and Melton passed up a great opportunity here. They clogged up the sequel with too many characters and Arkin suffered for it. Ahem, SPOILERS AHEAD! TURN BACK NOW OR FOREVER BE SPOILED: at the end of this movie, again, we get a great finale – again, setting up the possibility of another film to make this a trilogy – and it once more involves Arkin. So I just can’t help feeling the writers wasted an opportunity to let Arkin’s story grow. Sure, he is featured in a ton of the film’s runtime, however, it isn’t as if there’s much to him in this one. He’s residual here, when they should have amped Arkin up further; it’s probably Josh Stewart’s best role, to me, and they could’ve let him run more and more with it here. I’m not saying I know what would have been best/correct to do with the character here, I just know that what they did hasn’t done any justice for the character. It might’ve been just as interesting to have Arkin stuck in The Collector’s hideout, then somehow include his wife’s debt predicament in the whole matter.
4That brings up another problem I have – his wife was in serious debt with loan sharks, the money was due at midnight the same night Arkin went to rob the Chase house, and yet there she is on the television giving interviews, hoping her husband will be spared by the murderer out there with him taken hostage. I mean, maybe the sharks didn’t come because of all the cop activity around Arkin and his family after he’s been taken by The Collector – I don’t know. It bothered me, though. Just feel like there was a good foundation for Arkin as a character built up in the first film and The Collection blew the potential it could have had.
The-Collection-2012-movieThis one feels as if it’s really a Saw rip-off, whereas I felt The Collector was distanced enough from its influences to be something on its own. Even just the opening sequence made me go “oh brrrrrother” and roll my eyes into the back of my head a-la-Liz Lemon. Things got more and more silly. At least in the first one the scope wasn’t as wide; the house was big, but it wasn’t massive like an old abandoned warehouse. It reeked to much of a Jigsaw-like situation. Other than the fact The Collector set traps in the first movie, I didn’t get that Jigsaw knock-off vibe. Here, I really do. Not in the character, in the way his lair is setup. I mean, he basically had homemade Dahmer-style zombies running around in there, and that was way over-the-top, I couldn’t handle it. The part with that one girl who he’d essentially Stockholm Syndrome’d I didn’t find so far fetched, especially when it comes to serial killer territory. But the wild drugged up people he had going on, the massive pile of bodies in the basement – it got increasingly desperate and derivative of Saw to the point where I realized Dunstan and Melton obviously ran out of ideas for this movie and fell back into their Saw formula (I guess that’s the danger when you’re involved with two or three of the movies in that series – maybe it stuck to them like the stink of shit).
Some of the traps here really bugged me – there’s one part where these cylindrical, spiked tubes come down and impale one of the mercenaries whom Lucello brought, and it just feels so god damn nonsensical. Even in the first movie there were a couple moments I thought “Man this is a bit much”, but none of them blew me away to the point I almost laughed. The Collection ends up with too many little bits that made me feel like laughing, or just made me want to shake my head. Too bad.
snouty-pig-the-collection-official-trailerA part of The Collection I thoroughly did enjoy was the score. Again, Dunstan works with a Trent Reznor collaborator: Charlie Clouser. What a choice. The style of these movies really goes well with that industrial sound. Clouser opts for a more synthesized sound than Jerome Dillon did with the score for the first film, all the while still adding some real heavy riffs into his compositions. There are excellently ominous moments where Clouser goes for the synthesizer – bellowing, low tones almost shiver in our ears while The Collector stalks the halls of his hideout, looking for his prey – and then there are a few awesome guitar tracks.
There’s one part of the score from Clouser which starts with just short of 20 minutes left to the film that blows me away. It’s a great little guitar part with pounding drums, the foggy voices “ahhh” “ohhh” overtop, not too loud, and it sort of drones on in the background, making things feel epic. Leads up to some badassery on the part of Elena (Fitzpatrick) and Arkin (Stewart). Makes the big climactic moments feel all that much more intense. Amazing instance of Clouser’s power as a composer.
The_Collection-photo1I can only give this sequel a 2.5 out of 5 stars. That’s honestly being generous.
A lot of my problem has to do with the lack of Arkin’s development into a more significant character. I mean, by all rights they could do a third film. Perhaps it could be a prequel, I don’t know, (SPOILER AHEAD RE: ENDING) but it might be interesting to see a movie that starts off with Arkin after the events of The Collection. We could pick up with Arkin surveying all the things in The Collector’s actual home, where he’d tracked the killer down and taken him hostage in the same antique trunk where Arkin had once been locked up. Even if the movie got part of the way through and The Collector turned the tables on Arkin, getting loose – we could then have an almost action-thriller mixed with horror, as Arkin takes off after The Collector, intent on finding him before the killer either finds him, or begins to take more victims, or worse – vanishes into thin air. Whatever happens, another film or not, I think Arkin was downgraded in this movie, even with all the screen time he gets; he could have been turned into something better.
You’ll have a bit of fun watching this, but it’s nowhere near as good as its predecessor. I hope to see another movie in the series, though. I love The Collector as a villain. I didn’t find him as creepy here as in the first either, however, I did think there were some interesting bits going on. Mostly, Dunstan and Melton tried to take their near-iconic villain to a level he wasn’t meant go. I liked The Collector as a villain who did elaborate things, yet on a small scale, not only ensuring better invisibility to law enforcement but also in terms of the film world – it made things more plausible, and easy, for the filmmakers while things stayed on a limited scale. Bringing this sequel to a bigger, wider arena in terms of The Collector’s hideout and the innovation of new traps for him to use, did the movie no favours. I can’t recommend it, other than for the completist, or fans of The Collector who just want to see a bit more of the villain in action; even if it’s lacklustre.

CLOSER TO GOD and the Ethics of Science

Closer to God. 2014. Directed and Written by Billy Senese. Starring Jeremy Childs, Shelean Newman, Shannon Hoppe, David Alford, and Isaac Disney. LC Pictures. Unrated. 81 minutes. Horror/Sci-Fi/Thriller.

★★★
affiche-closer-to-god-2014-1
Usually I keep my ear out and head up for any new horror films that sound different, or for whatever reason pique my interest. Closer to God went on the checklist of my IMDB account a long while back, before there was ever a trailer, any pictures online. It was just a poster. Not the one I’ve put on here, but a simple red background with a black outlined tree extending its roots out underneath down towards the movie’s title.
I was surprised when I finally got to see Closer to God because, though it’s not a masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, the film was really interesting. Billy Senese, both writer and director, crafts a decent tale of horror, which acts as a film metaphor for the fears people get over human cloning, genetic manipulation, and the ethical/moral implications and ramifications of these practices. While it very literally tackles the subject, the ideas work well with the horror element of the film. This turns out to be more horror than science fiction, even if it wishes to be more the latter.

Dr. Victor Reed (Jeremy Childs) has completed the first successful cloning of a human being. He creates a baby girl – Elizabeth. She is a full-on experiment; made for research and genetic modifications. Not to mention little Elizabeth is made with the genetics of Dr. Reed/an unnamed individual. Naturally everyone is outraged. People hate what the doctor is doing, but they’ve got no idea what else is going on inside the house.
While the storm of angry people push on, morally outraged by the new cloned baby, another child is causing trouble – Ethan.

The housekeepers at Dr. Reed’s home, Mary and Richard (Shelean Newman and Richard Alford), are trying to take care of this boy, troubled little Ethan, who seems to be proving too much. Things only get more difficult, and it turns out Ethan is growing, he’s hurting, and he might just want to get the hell out of the good doctor’s family home.
75-3Something I’m a little tired of is all these indie films, horror or science fiction, which try to be the next Frankenstein. I love Mary Shelley – I’ve read the book, loved it, and I even enjoy the Kenneth Branagh starred-directed version. What I’m sick of is the fact that either critics try to claim a movie is drawing from Shelley, or the film itself relies too heavily on those comparisons within the script. I mean, there’s even a point where we see someone hold up a sign that says – you guessed it – FRANKENSTEIN! And someone literally calls Dr. Reed – Dr. Frankenstein.
Plus, Dr. Reed’s first name is Victor. Y’know, it just feels like a thick layer of cheese over top of what could be a good enough film on its own.
maxresdefaultIt’s a tired, tired comparison. And I get it, the obviousness of it sits right in front of us. I’ve discussed the ethics of human cloning enough via university courses in Philosophy and English Literature to last me a full lifetime.
My biggest issue is that, by relying on the comparison between its own material and Shelley’s Frankenstein, Senese creates an environment where there’s too much reliance on the comparison itself. Frequently the Frankenstein connection comes out, as I mentioned before, and it’s so often that the whole concept becomes annoying. Senese easily created an atmosphere of dread and tension without invoking Shelley, over and over.

When Closer to God really works, though, it works.
A scene truly got to me a little ways in; when Mary (Shelean Newman) goes up to bring Ethan some food. We get a glimpse of him in the corner – you can only barely make out his face, but it is one of pure evil, or emptiness, a void lacking any humanity. He doesn’t make a sound, Mary is clearly unnerved. She leaves, but just as she does and the camera moves back with her Ethan comes running out to the table, smashing things, and screaming in this utterly soul crushing voice that cuts through your skin and your bones. I like to think I’ve seen a lot of horror – in general I’m up to almost 4,100 films in total – but this moment genuinely frightened the shit out into my pants. I was wide-eyed and actually had to text my girlfriend, who is out on a Saturday night unlike her cinephile boyfriend, to tell her how scary the damn scene came off. A great, great bit of subtle horror.

There’s another creepy, brief scene I like, but it’s not nearly as terrifying. There’s an almost horror-beauty to it: Dr. Reed heads out to the gate in front of his house and watches as protesters lob burning plastic baby dolls over and into the yard, just about right at his feet. The way Childs simply stands there, watching these flaming plastic heaps come at him – it’s eerily appealing.
Closer-God-protestor-yelling-700x467As most of the reviews so far have pointed out, the perhaps greatest part of the entire film is the central performance by Jeremy Childs as Doctor Victor Reed. He is an unconventional looking guy to be the lead of a movie – not that I care because I love movies that feel like their characters are real people. There are just so many perfect moments where Childs pulls off the doctor so well. A great exchange happens after SPOILER AHEAD Mary is killed by Ethan – Victor and his wife Claire (Shannon Hoppe) have a short yet rough argument, and Childs does great work with the dialogue between them. He is believable, and that’s what sells the character of Dr. Reed; no matter how cheerily named after Shelley’s titular doctor he may be.
I think if the lead in Closer to God had to have been someone weaker there are tons of scenes that wouldn’t have been able to carry the emotion they did. The chemistry between Childs and Hoppe as the troubled married couple is good stuff. Too many independent films suffer from having wooden acting, along with bad dialogue. These two really sell the fact they are a married couple, it feels like a bad relationship of course, especially considering the circumstances of the film, but it’s real, it doesn’t come out forced and you don’t see two actors acting as husband and wife. The movie is immersive, and certainly the fact Senese wrote a decent script helped that along.
screen_shot_2015-07-08_at_9.51.22_am.pngIn the end, I think what detracts most from this movie being great is the fact it doesn’t pay out on all the ideas of morality and ethics surrounding the original premise. We get excellently developed tension, a slow and steady pace for most of the film, and then it devolves from what could’ve been, at times, fairly profound horror/science fiction.
Instead of doing more with the science fiction angle, Closer to God drops off into complete horror. Not that there’s anything wrong with that either, I am a horror hound. But I can’t help feeling at least slightly cheated, in a sense. There’s a promise of grand concepts here. The finale of the film becomes a typical sort of thing – I don’t want to fully ruin the ending or anything. Mainly, I love how creepy the Ethan character was, I just don’t think Billy Senese went anywhere innovative or fresh with what he was doing. Essentially all those Frankenstein comparisons never truly go anywhere, all paths leading to a slasher film-like conclusion.

I think Closer to God, for all its creepiness and tension and the incredibly believable performance by Jeremy Childs, is still only a 3 out of 5 star film for me. There was so much promise in the whole project, but I feel as if Billy Senese squandered a lot of what he’d built up. Again, the comparisons to Mary Shelley’s famous gothic horror novel is an angle I’m frankly done with unless it gets taken somewhere useful.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some beyond creepy scenes in this film. So much of the material involving the failed experiment of Dr. Victor Reed’s that is his “son” Ethan could have really went into incredible territory. Unfortunately, that territory never gets explored. What Senese does with the material is creep us out awhile and then go for the jugular with a far too heavy handed approach at the finish.
Check this out if you’d like to see some interesting horror/science fiction, but know this: it is mostly generic horror you will find. Even with the supremely creepy bits sprinkled throughout, Closer to God is closer to nothing special. See it for, if anything, Jeremy Childs, and a handful of eerie scenes.

TRUE STORY: Franco & Hill Play it Straight

Jonah Hill and James Franco are the selling point of TRUE STORY, all the way.

Read more