In spite of its ties to the Saw franchise, The Collector manages to, at points, rise above its torture porn roots and deliver a mostly solid 85 minutes of horror, suspense, action and, for the most part, good performances. The film, written by Saw IV, V and VI scribes Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton and directed by Dunstan, follows the same basic formula of the Saw films where a devious and virtually unstoppable villain, in this case The Collector instead of Saw’s Jigsaw, devises many ingenious, outlandish and over-the-top ways to kill the various members of the cast. Taken as only that, the film would most likely be relegated to obscurity very soon after watching it.
The conceit that saves The Collector from being regarded as just another Saw knockoff is the fact that the hero, capability played by Josh Stewart, is actually a criminal who breaks into a house where The Collector has already taken up residence and is in mid-torture of the wealthy family who resides there. Once inside, the criminal discovers The Collector’s crimes, is derailed from his purpose in the house to steal a gem to pay his wife’s gambling debts, and must become the reluctant hero. Instead of robbing the family, he must instead rescue them and get them, and himself, out of the house alive. This criminal versus killer concept is the main redeeming quality of the film.
Developing his character, giving him something to fight for and turning him into the hero enables the audience to have an interest in if he lives or dies and, more importantly, if he can save the family and their young daughter from the hands of The Collector and his box. This helps the film by being just original and different enough from other films like it to elevate it above the normal fare associated with this genre. However, as interesting as the particular conceit is, it doesn’t help the film quite enough and as such we are still treated to several scenes of torture and contrived situations which could have been lifted out of most other Saw films or various other cogs in the torture porn machine.
That’s not to say the film is all torture. In fact, director Dunstan seems to take pains not to show some of the actual torture and instead shows its aftermath — a much more effective technique. The use of sound effects is also very effective in conveying the horrible nature of some of these scenes, adds to the effect of not seeing them and only imagining what must be happening. Of course, this technique may have also been born out of the film’s modest budget and short shooting schedule. But even taking those into consideration, the technique is still very effective.
The film is also helped by its cinematography by relative newcomer Brendan Cox as well as solid supporting performances by Andrea Roth, Michael Reilly Burke, Robert Wisdom and Madeline Zima in the requisite rebellious daughter who’s interrupted during sex and must pay the ultimate price for her transgression. Where the film falls far short is in the development of The Collector himself and most of the other characters. Granted, faceless killers are a mainstay of modern horror films but with almost no information to go on other than the fact that “He collects things” and “Once he picks you he won’t ever let you go” and the fact that he loves dogs and wears a mask, we have pretty much nothing to go on about the bad guy.
Not that I’m expressly looking for his motivation, but one of the strengths of any good horror film is the bad guy and having his character developed more would have helped the film and given it more depth. This is one of the reasons Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween, for example, was so effective. We understand Michael Myers and when he snaps, we feel it and can relate to it. With The Collector, we don’t have anything like that and instead we meet him at the beginning of the film already at work. Perhaps this is something that will be explored in the inevitable sequel, which is set up quite nicely at the end of this film.
Fans of the Saw films and their ilk will most-likely flock to The Collector as well, and they should. Even with its shortcomings, the film still manages to engage the audience on some level and regardless of its ancestry, rises above and becomes somewhat original. Plus, given the conditions in which the film was made, its budget and schedule, it’s definitely more accomplished and polished than it probably has a right to be. Is The Collector a great film? No. However, it doesn’t really need to be — especially when compared with many others of its genre. It’s good enough. Director Dunstan manages to carve out a niche for himself and demonstrates a real flair for composition, pacing and suspense. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him or The Collector.
The Collector is Rated R for pervasive sadistic bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity. It opens everywhere today.