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The Collector is a Pretty Nice Surprise

The Collector
Directed by Marcus Dunstan
Written by Dunstan and Patrick Melton
Freestyle Releasing, 2009

Dunstan and Melton are definitely the most successful filmmakers to come out of the Project Greenlight days.  These guys wrote Feast, won the contest to have their movie made (by John Gulager), and after a few episodes these guys were already hard at work on a new Highlander film (although that movie never got made).  Since then they’ve penned two straight-to-video Feast sequels, and most notably, have written the last two Saw films and the one coming up in October, Saw VI.

The Collector owes a lot to the Saw films, as it closely resembles the torture-horror that has defined the decade.  But in this case, it’s not so much people getting kidnapped and having to do something extremely painful to get out of a trap, it’s more a minefield of rigged traps that are set up for sick amusement, with the goal being death and not rehabilitation.

Arkin (Josh Stewart) is a handyman helping a family secure their house.  The family of four: father Michael (Michael Reilly Burke), mother Victoria (Andrea Roth), teenage daughter Jill (Californication’s Madeline Zima), and young daughter Hannah (Karley Scott Collins) are your typical group, slightly dysfunctional but not breaking apart.  Arkin has a little bonding session with Hannah and then goes to give his earnings to his wife Lisa (Daniella Alonso) and child Cindy (Haley Pullos).  But the money is apparently not enough, his wife is in trouble with some bad people, and Arkin has to find a way to make some money by midnight.

Arkin is also a thief, and he’s been casing the place he just worked on, the family owning some valuable ruby of some sort.  Arkin gets his handler Roy (Robert Wisdom) to guarantee a payday by midnight if he’s able to bring him the ruby, so back to the house to crack a safe and abscond with a valuable stone.  Bada-boom, bada bing, piece of cake.  Except for the fact that there’s a guy who has set up traps all over the house that cause pain and even death.  Arkin finds himself having to avoid The Collector, his traps, and the people of the house who are being tortured and think that he’s actually the one responsible.  Hopefully, little Hannah is OK.

So Arkin’s main focus becomes getting out of the house, which is nearly impossible, and saving the residents, also very hard.  It’s a simple little film and pretty effective overall.  It’s not really scary, but kind of fun considering the traps involved.  The surprise of the film wears out after awhile, but it’s a short flick and finds a good amount of tension throughout. The movie, much like the original Saw, could have benefited by making getting out of the traps more fun.

Yes, this movie isn’t getting rave critical reviews, it’s still being given the dreaded “torture porn” status by those who have seen it.  And yes, the cruel and unusual death/pain scenes are over-the-top, but unlike many movies of this genre, it keeps tension at a premium rather than just showing “people what they want to see” and showing just blood and gore without any suspense.  That’s why this movie is much better than Hostel II and most of the Saw franchise.  In a way, it reminded me of last year’s The Strangers (it’s not nearly as good as that movie, but it at least has a fraction of the tension), and that’s good company.

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