A little bit like The Zodiac working out of the Clue house, The Collector is an absurd horror movie with more booby traps than the board game 13 Dead End Drive. It’s astoundingly illogical, consistently indulgent and unnecessarily graphic. That director Marcus Dunstan embraces all these shortcomings and somehow pulls the entire thing off seems like a bad opinion on paper, but there’s a clear passion beneath the surface--even amidst all the graphic boob shots and decapitated cats. This isn’t a film content to deliver the same scares or incorporate tracking shots you’ve already seen. The horror game is a tired rigmarole right now, and while The Collector is likely to be contrasted against the Saw movies based on its sharing of writers and incorporation of masked villains with fetishes for bizarre game play, this film’s cinematography should keep it relevant in sadistic circles for years to come.
Arkin (Josh Stewart) is the creepiest handyman this side of Darryl’s other brother Darryl. He takes on odd jobs for an unhappy wealthy couple (Michael Reilly Burke and Andrea Roth) as a cover for a safecrack he’s planning to do in order to get money for his sketchy wife who owes out her blowhole to local loan sharks. His partner (Robert Wisdom), a local strip club owner, Ving Rhames lookalike and scary black dude, set the job up but pleads with Arkin to wait a few more days to properly case the joint out. He refuses and breaks into the house, only to discover an intricate maze of deadly torture chambers and seventh circle of hell fiendishness.
On first impulse, Arkin decides to bail and leave his future Dexter victims to fend for themselves, but after nearly severing his hand on razors attached to the window, he elects to stay and fight it out against a masked villain encrusted in black leather, one of those getups which screams I’m-the-awkward-kid-but-being-into-weird-shit-has-given-me-a-feeling-of-superiority. The parents, Michael and Victoria, are pretty much fucked six ways to Halloween downstairs, but the two daughters are missing. Arkin decides to find and save them, which pretty much plots the entire second half of the movie.
I know this all seems a little trite and gimmicky on paper, but The Collector does a masterful job of using the house as a main character. As Arkin is inside and the Man In Black (see: Not Johnny Cash) is unaware of his presence; the action takes on a cat and mouse quality, as the hooded rapscallion wanders back-and-forth torturing for sport and Arkin creeps into the empty shadows trespassing for weapons and ways to free the family. As a viewer, it’s like watching from the Pacman vantage point. The camera slides from room to room, stopping to note where various booby traps are trigged from and what unseemly battle axe or knife-fortified chandelier its tripwire may bring.
The Collector falls solidly in the good category. It doesn’t exactly transcend its genre---but maybe that’s part of its appeal? Unlike Sam Raimi’s Drag Me To Hell, there’s no attempt at comedy here. Unlike The Haunting In Connecticut, there’s no attempt at character development. There are no lessons to be learned, music to be bonded over or clues to be unearthed. It’s just a good-ol-fashioned bloodbath. Rasputin could get behind that. And occasionally, I can too---especially when the cinematography is genuinely innovative and the whole thing doesn’t apologize for being masochistic, maniacal and malignant. Stab away.