Now, I’ve said this before, but I’m what’s technically known as a Saw Whore. That is to say that, for better or worse, I’ve watched every one of the Saw sequels and got a kick out of all of them in one way or another. For me they represent the 80s horror franchise tradition, so important to me in my youth, of providing cheap, gory entertainment, carried through for another generation to be raised on.
The quality of the films themselves is largely irrelevant, with the idea being to fill a quota for a ‘paint by numbers’ kind of movie, which simply has to deliver a few thrills and some hysterically nasty deaths. So The Collector, with its publicity line ‘from the twisted minds behind the Saw sequels’, might have some people running away from the film rather than towards it, but that would be a tremendous shame as The Collector is a riotous amount of fun.
Writers Marcus Dunstan (here being thrust into the director’s chair too) and Patrick Melton broke into the industry by winning the reality filmmaking show Project Greenlight (whose profile you might remember being raised by the involvement of Matt Damon and Ben Affleck), for their original script Feast.
Now, I happen to adore Feast for managing to play so well with the conventional horror approach to life expectancy, for being so gloriously over the top with its gore and for putting Henry Rollins in pink sweat pants. I have yet to see the sequels, which Dunstan and Melton penned, but heard from some close friends that they didn’t come close to the original, so I can’t comment yet.
The Collector manages to combine Feast‘s overblown, puerile sense of humour and wrap it tightly around the Saw movies’ affinity for ingeniously destructive traps, making for a very entertaining horror film. If you wanted a summary (and I’ve been practising these), I’d describe it as ‘a brutal and bloody blend of boobs and booby traps.’ Oh yes.
The plot, such as it is, doesn’t really need much coverage, as that’s not really what the film’s about, but as always I’d advise you not to read anything about it, as I always find that the less you know about a film’s content, the fresher it will be when you see it.
What I will share with you, though, is a quote from the original premise by Melton: “What if a thief broke into a serial killer’s home – someone like Michael Myers from the Halloween films – and Michael came home?”
That was enough to hook me, even though the film itself strays slightly from that central concept.
Where the film triumphs above most of its peers though, is with its central character, Arkin, upon whose shoulders the entire emotive drive of the film is burdened.
Arkin is a flawed but likeable man, but it’s his portrayal by relative unknown Josh Stewart that really bolsters the film. Think about how many horror films you’ve sat through where the machete fodder was nothing more than that, or worse, when the supposed heroes of the film are actively hateable. It’s a lot, right?
In The Collector, not only is Arkin’s plight sympathetic, but at one point during a confrontation I actually found myself energetically rooting for him, which is an impressive feat for almost anyone cast in a horror film, especially when the killer is normally so much more interesting.
Strangely, for a fan of masked killers, the Collector himself I thought was one of the weaker elements in the film, containing the classic, calculated traits of many a movie psychopath, mixed with some kind of dislikeable, lecherous gimp.
Apparently, the Collector’s origins and motives were intentionally held back, but if the character himself seemed lacking, it only added to the empathy with Arkin. I would also advise the filmmakers that no enigmatic murderer should ever resort to using firearms, it strips him of any supernatural threat.
Even if the killer himself failed to get me on side, then the immense booby traps he lays out throughout the film certainly did. Rigged in a way that, as in the best tradition of the Friday The 13th movies, are designed to be let off like a grisly firework show, ever increasing in spectacle and awe.
Some moments are so incredibly over the top and comical that even the room full of journalists were cracking up, so while I can promise that they are spectacular (without wanting to give any more away), I can advise animal lovers that one scene would be best avoided.
The traps are the main reason to watch the film, in the same way that they were with Saw, really giving the impression that they were holding back some of their greatest ideas for their own film.
It’s a shame that, with the black humour running to such extremes, the temptation to put some scenes of torture in the film proved too much. I’m all for violence in horror films, but the threat, suspense and traps in the film were already enough, with the torture actually dissolving some of those traits.
We all know that modern effects can show us an unlimited amount of nastiness, so why bother when it seems to be done for its own sake? I’ve seen a few films lately that have chosen to pull away from explicit detail and they’ve been all the more affecting because of it.
I’d also like to have seen a basement shot realistically for once and not drowned out in the now standard yellows, greens and reds that have become a mainstay in Saw and several other films, especially when they involve torture. For me it actually snaps you out of the environment and reminds you you’re watching another horror film, even though I appreciate that it’s a good way of making scenes more visually interesting, especially on a lower budget.
If you’re looking for a decent night’s entertainment, then The Collector was designed to be seen with a group of friends, or as a classic date movie, and it won’t let you down. I’m already looking forward to seeing it with other people, just to gauge their reactions to certain scenes.
It’s also worth venturing to the cinema to watch. As with most horror films, it always works best when accompanied by booming sound levels. Sure, it might be juvenile and bloody-minded at times (like the best of us), but for the ingenuity and quality of gore, mixed with some strong performances, you can’t go wrong.
The Collector is out Friday 25th June.