Thursday, April 29, 2010

THE COLLECTOR (2009) - 1/5 stars

Release: 2009
Director: Marcus Dunstan
Writer: Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton
Cast: Josh Stewart, Michael Reilly Burke, Andrea Roth, Juan Fernandez, Karley Scott Collins, Madeline Zima, Robert Wisdom
Soundtrack: Jerome Dillon
Claim to fame: from the writers of the "Feast" series and "Saw IV-VI"
Rating: 1/5 stars

Yesterday I talked about how the horror movie "Dread" was a nice change of pace for the genre, in that it generally steered clear of cliche and took place in the unfamiliar (for horror flicks) setting of a college campus. Well, if "Dread" was all about avoiding cliche then 2009's "The Collector" is an exercise in embracing them. Actually, I'm not even sure if this movie is cliche or just completely unimaginative.

When people talk about the decline of Western civilization, "The Collector" is the kind of movie they're talking about. That might seem a little harsh. But when critics are tearing apart these movies ("Saw" and "Hostel" and the like), they're doing so because they secretly fear the person in the theater who's actually getting a half-chub while someone onscreen is having pliers taken to their tongue.


This is actually probably the smartest way to watch "The Collector"

Whether or not those people exist, you can can sense the dread among the critical elite that our entertainment is subtly being shifted and geared towards those kinds of folks. There's the notion that when hairless, orange-colored people bumping uglies online doesn't do it for you anymore, you move on to the next big thing - which is realistically simulated violence.

I don't really care about all that. Well, actually I do, but for the purposes of this blog the issue is kinda neither here nor there. Horror, like any genre really, is cyclical. Back in the eighties, critics were so offended by the graphic puppet and make-up effects of John Carpenter's "The Thing" that they literally labeled it pornography. In the intervening years, it's gone on to rightfully be considered a classic. The issue is, Carpenter was an artist; every aspect of "The Thing" was finely crafted, from the music and the lighting to the performances and, yes, the beautifully grotesque special effects.


"This will go nice in my collection of...err...what exactly do I collect again?"

In comparison, nearly every facet of "The Collector" is lazily slapped together. The plot concerns a sort of handyman/cat burglar named Arkin. During the day, he scopes out a house by doing work on it and then returns at night to lay claim to the family safe. When the movie starts, he's doing his latest job because his ex-wife desperately needs to pay off some loan sharks. Now, this is the kind of stuff that you would think the movie would spend time elaborating on: character motivation.

But no. Arkin's wife and young daughter are given the briefest amount of screentime possible. It doesn't help that lead actor Josh Stewart seemingly…can't act. Either that or he's trying way too hard to be low-key. Regardless, he plays a guy who should seem down on his luck and have at least some of the audience's sympathy, but thanks to Stewart just comes across as creepy.


"I'm not a creeper. I swear."

Arkin returns to the house later that night. The plan is simple: the family is on vacation so all he has to do is break in, steal an expensive jewel from their safe, and get out of there in time to save his wife from the loan sharks. A wrench is thrown in the gears, however, when Arkin discovers he's not the only one in the house. The family themselves never got the chance to go on vacation and they're now held captive by a serial killer. Can Arkin save those who are trapped in the house, including a little girl who reminds him of his own daughter? Can he even save himself?

Very quickly, any sense of believability (or credibility, for that matter) is thrown out the window. The Collector wears a mask that is a blatant rip-off of the mask that David CRONENBERG wore in Clive BARKER's "Nightbreed" movie. And it's not even a respectful homage like the Scarecrow's mask in "Batman Begins." It's just an out-and-out copy. Pay attention, because this is the makers of the "Saw" sequels…shamelessly stealing from horror icons like Cronenberg and Barker.


"Oh shit, did we just rip off 'Nightbreed'? My bad, my bad."

Straining the audience's suspension of disbelief, The Collector has the house wired with traps. Now, we're not just talking about a few bear traps scattered in the living room (though they're there), we're talking elaborate traps that actually have machinations *inside the walls themselves*, chandeliers with steak knives inside them (how'd The Collector get up to the ceiling to attach them?), acid on bedroom floors, criss-crossing wires and impromptu guillotines.

This raises so many questions, it's not even funny. How in the world did this guy get the house completely wired with his traps, to the point where they almost seem like a part of the house itself? Considering that he already has everyone tied up in the basement, who exactly are the traps for?


Not even those burglars in "Home Alone" had it this bad

And that's not even stopping to ask: why is this guy called The Collector? It's ostensibly because he always keeps one of his last victims alive and inside this large box. He lugs the box around in his van, drops it in the middle of his new victims' house, lets them discover it, and then proceeds to have his torturous way with them. It really doesn't make any sense. I mean, what's the point of keeping someone alive in the box…just to frighten your new victim? Except according to the film's prologue, he doesn't let the surprise of "Oh my God, someone is still alive and trapped inside this box inside my living room!" sink in long before he grabs the poor sap and ties them down to be poked and prodded.

What this comes down to is that The Collector is not a compelling horror villain. At first, he seems interesting enough; despite his "Nightbreed" mask, I liked the way the character moved throughout the house without saying a word and displaying no visible emotion. The Collector was scary precisely because we knew nothing about him - he could be anyone! - and his methods were methodical to the extreme. I realize it's a delicate balance for writers to keep their movie monster shrouded in mystery and yet have enough of a personality and backstory that horror fans can latch on to them. But characters with a sense of anonymity and a single-minded sense of purpose? They're scary. Scary because they seem unstoppable.

However, all of that got tossed out the window when the family's teenage daughter returns home in the middle of the night with her boyfriend and the two begin to get heavy - the Collector actually crouches down, partially out of sight, and starts to watch them. He then grotesquely licks his lips when the girl's breasts are exposed, which pretty much killed anything interesting about him for me. Alright, so he's just a loathsome pervert in a mask who gets off on voyeuristic sex and violence. I mean, he's basically the exact kind of person who critics like Roger Ebert are afraid is watching this movie!


"They call him The Collector...I don't know why, or what he collects

exactly, but the script is telling me to tell you that! So now you know!"

"The Collector" basically plays out like a "Home Alone" revamp for adults, with Arkin trying to dodge The Collector's macabre traps. The lighting, set design, and editing style are all borrowed from "Saw," making this film seem more derivative than it really should. Director Marcus Dunstan cut his chops by writing "Feast," "Saw IV," "Feast 2," "Saw V," "Feast 3," and "Saw VI." Whew.

Now, I don't take the genre so seriously that I can't enjoy the first "Feast" film, but it doesn't take the most discerning critic to realize that Dunstan's filmography isn't the most exemplary display of talent in the horror realm. "The Collector" was really Dunstan's chance to prove himself as a credible horror filmmaker - he co-wrote and directed the project himself - but he instead sticks to what he knows. Which is, basically, shlock for the sake of shlock.


This would be considered dark and edgy...if, you know, a million

industrial music videos hadn't done it already in the early 90's

Get a green-hued room with dirty tiled walls (don't worry if you have to color-code the film on a computer in post-production), make sure there are some fluorescent lights - flickering, of course - that the camera can repeatedly cut to, strap a weeping actor to a chair, and then splash some red corn syrup everywhere and you've got yourself a MOVIE. Right? Oh, and don't forget that a nihilistic ending, where even the morally questionable "good guy" is hacked to bits, is a must. We've got to ensure there's room for a sequel, after all.

But "The Collector" can't even get this formula right. The make-up effects are painfully low-budget (a scene where a guy has his fingers cut off looks like a bunch of flesh-colored clay digits flying through the air). The only standout scene moment is when a guy lands backwards onto the living room full of bear traps. Now that's a spectacular way to go. What's really unsettling is how "The Collector" tosses in violence against animals for seemingly no reason. Dunstan manages to slice a cat in half and literally blow up a German Shepherd in less than 80 minutes.


Get used to this color scheme cause it permeates the film

I know, I know: some people would say it's hypocritical to decry violence against animals in a movie that is all about perpetrating violence against humanity. But deep down, we all know that we've got it coming. Humans are the worst and most cruel species on earth. That's why we can watch these kinds of movies guilt-free. When was the last time you mourned the death of a horny teenager in a "Friday the 13th" movie?

But a family cat howling in pain as it's burned alive by acid and then sliced in half by a giant blade isn't something I really want to see in my horror flicks. Again, it's another element of this movie that seems only there to provoke the audience. You know, so the Beavis and Butt-Head sitting behind you in the theater can turn to each other and go, "Heh heh, dogs blowing up is cool, heh heh."


This movie's creepy, random fascination with spiders did not help endear it to me

If my 1 star rating has to be for anything, let it be for the score provided by Jerome Dillon, former drummer for Nine Inch Nails. His music is a decent-enough sounding pastiche of "The Downward Spiral"-era industrial music, and is in the tradition of other ex-NIN members doing horror movie soundtracks (Charlie Clouser wrote the music for "Saw"). This is the "NIN-loving high school Freshman" trapped inside of me being gracious.

And if it sounds like I'm getting too riled up over this movie, think of this way: you know all the times you've heard someone say "I could write a script better than that!" and you thought to yourself, "Yeah, right"? This is the one time where, yes, just about anybody could write a screenplay better than this. And if it sounds like I'm taking this movie too seriously, think of it THIS way: somebody actually spent $3 million dollars making this dungheap. Three. Million.


Geez. Remember when horror movies were actually FUN
and not just exercises in cruelty?

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