The Collector (2009) Review
The Collector was directed by Marcus Dunstan (Unhuman, Feast), written by Dunstan and Patrick Melton (Feast II, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark) and stars Josh Stewart (Criminal Minds, Cold Moon), Karley Scott Collins (Pulse 2: Afterlife, Answers to Nothing), Andrea Roth (Rescue Me, Princes in Exile), Michael Reilly Burke (Ted Bundy, Monster Party), Madeline Zima (Crazy Eyes, VHYes), and Juan Fernandez (Crocodile Dundee II, Liquid Dreams). It’s about a man trying to escape from the scene of his thievery after he realizes the place has been boobytrapped.
The Plot: It’s quite clear that The Collector was originally conceived as a Saw sequel, or some other “quel”, as its plot is deeply entrenched in its torture porn intentions, and it hardly aspires to create something worth raising an eyebrow at. It would be fine to stick to a high concept if the rest of the movie’s pieces lived up to it.
Handyman Arkin (Stewart) is working on fixing a house for Michael (Burke) and Victoria (Roth), a married couple who are the parents of Hannah (Collins) and Jill (Zima). Unbeknownst to them, Arkin is planning on stealing a ruby the couple has kept in their safe. When Arkin returns to the house after dark, he gets the ruby, but on his way out is locked in and endangered by scores of traps set up in mere hours by the Collector (Fernandez).
It’s a simple premise, but the writers slip up by having Arkin come back to the house on the same day – unless there was an unspecified time jump – to find that traps now litter the household. It’s the only major hole in the plot, which is bizarre since it was an easy fix.
As he acquaints himself with his altered surroundings, Arkin soon figures out that the family has been trapped too, and is faced with a dilemma in having to choose to save them while elevating the risk he faces from both the killer and a third party or escaping solo. The plot’s simple, mostly tight, and offers ample opportunity for terror; graciously eschewing the convolution of the Saw franchise.
The Characters: While there are plenty of characters within the movie, it’s a show run by Arkin, Hannah, and the titular character. Since the movie sticks solely with Arkin, there’s little room for anyone else to feel like more than a plot device.
Arkin is a surprisingly strong lead because he resides in a gray area of morality for a large chunk of the runtime. He’s doing what he’s doing only because his estranged wife has gotten herself into trouble with some shady characters who threaten Arkin’s family. Logically it should be his wife thieving the jewel, but Arkin is willing enough to take point so his family (mostly his daughter) remains intact. The Collector gives a little time to ruminate on his actions, which is a good decision.
Arkin is better than nearly every horror protagonist because that’s what he becomes: a likable person. He’s cordial with the Chase family, taking to Hannah presumably because of her similarity to his own daughter, and makes some surprising decisions regarding her and the rest of the family. Additionally, he makes very few stupid decisions that screenwriters often have their characters perform, a vast improvement over the majority of horror mainliners.
The antagonist is the polar opposite. He’s literally a blank slate; faceless, without dialogue, without motive, without backstory. He likes bugs though. I guess that’s something. It’s immensely disappointing that a character as strong as Arkin doesn’t have a real person to face off with. The rest of the family are just there to be tortured, quite mean-spiritedly in fact. Without Arkin (and Stewart’s electric performance), the feature would fall flat on its face.
The Horror: As mentioned, The Collector was originally intended to be connected in some way to the Saw franchise, and as such lurches farther towards ludicrous gore instead of something more interesting to put its protagonist through, though no one should accuse Dunstan and Melton of half-heartedness in their execution.
White knuckles come from a load of close calls that Arkin has with the enemy and his traps, which are certainly functional, but almost too much so. Even without the inattention paid to the timeframe in which they were constructed, the traps, which consist of things like a spider’s web of tripwires that take up an entire room in a rather large house and razor blades being attached to every single boarded-up window, are largely overblown to the point of causing detachment from the moments that precede them. Smaller and/or simpler ones like a floor of bear traps get the same job done with more believability.
Close calls with the Chase family who are initially untrusting of him are peppered throughout The Collector, which makes sense and for the first time or two, even elicit responses, but wear thin after a noticeable pattern comes into play. It’s again disappointing that the movie doesn’t ever touch the opportunities it presents itself with the presence of these characters.
Also, a detriment is the cheapness of some of the scares that surround Hannah. Child endangerment in movies doesn’t necessarily equal the easy way out (see 2005’s Hostage). When the child in the movie acts like a plot device (this movie) instead of an actual integral piece of the plot’s progression (Hostage), it becomes an issue.
Aside from that, The Collector is mostly shock value instead of legitimate terror, choosing to linger on things like a melting cat and ripping flesh from bone. It’s cringe-inducing, sure, but far from scary once the initial impact wears off. The rest of the movie just sinks in, trying to raise its own bar.
The Technics: With their experience on the low-budgeted Saw movies, it’s to zero surprise that The Collector is a well-constructed movie in the raw sense, even managing to look leagues more realistic thanks to it being shot mostly on location instead of on cheap sets.
Credit must go to Gary J. Tunnicliffe (Apollo 18, Hellraiser: Judgment) and the rest of the makeup effects team for stepping up to the plate and crafting some wince-worthy and lifelike effects, even if they do eventually overstay their welcome without much time between major injuries and setpieces. The cinematography by Brandon Cox (Deadlock, Marauders) is decent too in that he keeps the camera steady, undoubtedly confident in the effects holding up their end of the bargain.
Undoing some of his lensing is the editing by Alex Luna (Heist, Carnival Row), Howard E. Smith (Strange Days, Knights of Badassdom) and James Mastracco (The Wire, High Schoolers Guide to College Parties), which retains some of its Saw influences in the way the screen flashes and jumps. Jerome Dillon’s (Bleed, Vacancy 2: The First Cut) score is just ugly, foregoing raising the feeling of helplessness in lieu of shrieking notes and out-of-place metal inflections that are more annoying than scary.
Dunstan’s direction is passable, if a little less than impressive at times. The location and makeup keep the movie from feeling as flat as it really should be, as The Collector is a mostly barely-above-average movie on a technical level.
While certainly better than every Saw movie released before and after it, The Collector is still a mixed bag because it lacks a crucial piece of logic, a memorable villain to match its hero, and its usage of cheap clichés and plot devices. It does have Josh Stewart and the Arkin character, who are both easily the highlights here. They both deserve something better.
The Collector is currently available on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital platforms. And if you want to add more films like this to your collection, FilmTagger has a few suggestions.