For unabashed fans of terror, or anyone who has enjoyed body horror offerings in the past, Dunstan has delivered a worthwhile entry in the genre.
Co-writer/director Marcus Dunstan has promised that The Collection will offer fans of his cult-favorite horror, The Collector, an even bigger, better, and more terrifying moviegoing experience. The first film opened in a challenging 2009 summer spot, competing for weeks with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince as well as G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, flying under the radar. Despite modest box office returns, The Collector still found its intended audience through post-release word of mouth.
Horror in the original Collector movie drew heavily on Dunstan and co-writer Patrick Melton's Saw series pedigree (they penned Saw IV - Saw 3D): victims face a house full of sadistic booby traps - where panic and fear often result in gory mayhem. However, in The Collection, Dunstan and Melton expand on the mythos by taking the story to the Collector's twisted (and still booby trapped) home base - but does a more intimate (and crazy) setting result in a movie that can cross genre lines and win over filmgoers who are intimidated by cringe-inducing body horror?
Absolutely not but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Collection isn't a dramatic break from the torture horror genre; instead, it's a playful evolution on the usual design for fans who still enjoy watching a group of people get torn apart by rusty machinery and twisted traps. Dunstan's latest film is not going to be for everyone but for horror lovers who enjoyed The Collector, it's safe to say that The Collection is an improvement in nearly every way. In addition to a series of brutal kill sequences and an intriguing look inside the Collector's domain, the movie offers a number of intentional tongue-in-cheek riffs on standard horror tropes and a competent set of performances that help ground the bloody proceedings.
For anyone unfamiliar with The Collector premise: in addition to serial murder (via booby trapped kill rooms), the Collector often selects a surviving victim as part of his "collection" - stuffing them in oversized suit cases for later use. In the new film, Collector survivor Arkin (Josh Stewart) escapes during one of the madman's killing sprees - watching helplessly as the murderer captures teenager Elena Peters (Emma Fitzpatrick) for his collection. After the police fail to apprehend the Collector, and fearing that the killer will eventually come for his family, Arkin agrees to help a search and rescue squad recruited by Elena's father (Christopher McDonald) and led by family friend, Lucello (Lee Tergesen). Their mission: find the collection, rescue Elena, and kill the Collector.
Similar to The Collector, The Collection sees antihero Arkin once again forced to juggle saving his own skin against a gnawing heart of gold that drives him to rescue innocent victims. However, one movie removed from his conman/safe-cracking days and Arkin has actually grown into a protagonist that is significantly easier to endorse. Given the additional layer of history between the pair, Arkin's vengeful and outspoken hatred toward the Collector is surprisingly fun to watch this round - especially when juxtaposed against the antagonist's silent mockery and taunting. Considering the amount of preachy villains who need to explain their sadistic actions, the Collector's restraint is a welcome change of pace in the genre - a choice that makes the character all the more creepy (and downright entertaining) when a flash of emotion manages to slip out.
As mentioned, the rest of the cast, led by a solid performance from Fitzpatrick, manages to keep any over-the-top moments grounded in believable tension. Non-horror viewers will find plenty of the usual fodder for criticism - characters that make counter-intuitive (and life-threatening) mistakes or have sudden changes of heart (serving the plot instead of nuanced drama) but few of these moments detract from succeeding in The Collection's primary focus: tense and cringe-inducing splatter house terror.
The kills in the film don't carry as much weight as the calculated sequences in the Saw series (for example) but The Collector movies, with frantic fear and panic driving the characters toward painful mishaps and potential death, offer a different riff on the traditional kill trap format. Instead of watching a victim fight for their life in a calculated and torturous scenario, Collector horror is a balance between frenzied near-misses and swift kills. The Collection ups the tempo from the original film and, as a result, a few of the set pieces (as well as the larger Collector mythology) move a bit too fast to fully capitalize on the buildup - which may undercut the enthusiasm of certain Collector fans who enjoyed the intimate scope (and memorable deaths) in the 2009 film.
Nevertheless, most viewers will likely enjoy the "bigger" scale this round and the "collection" setting delivers a twisted insight into the Collector that could not have been achieved in another isolated "kill house" chapter. Plenty of mysteries remain in the fallout but Dunstan makes good use of the Collector's "home base" characters, story, and dangers. Plus, while moviegoers might be transfixed on all of the blood and gore, certain moments in The Collection offer surprisingly beautiful onscreen viewing - especially a fiery moment toward the end.
At the very least, The Collection presents a competent and entertaining offering in a genre that has been worn down by shameless paint-by-number sequels. The movie is not going to win over gore film skeptics - it's an unapologetic celebration of splatter cinema. If the premise, a group of people locked in a warehouse who stumble into one life-threatening trap after another (with bloody results), doesn't sound like an enjoyable viewing experience, there's no doubt that The Collection will likewise be painful to watch. However, for unabashed fans of terror, or anyone who has enjoyed body horror offerings in the past, Dunstan has delivered a worthwhile entry in the genre - along with a number of successful and entertaining variations to the format.
If you’re still on the fence about The Collection, check out the trailer below:
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.
The Collection is Rated R for strong bloody violence, grisly images, language and brief nudity. Now playing in theaters.
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