It’s understandable you might approach Marcus Dunstan’s “The Collector” with no small degree of trepidation. “From the writers of Saw IV, V and VI” the posters proudly proclaim, a somewhat dubious pedigree given the consistent decline in quality which has characterised that most gruesome of horror series.
You may expect to be in store for another derivative exercise in titties and gore, the last hurrah offshoot of a dying “torture porn” franchise that has flagellated and garrotted itself into artistic irrelevance through a glut of slipshod sequels and lowest common denominator pandering. You’d be wrong. Instead throw aside any preconceptions and prepare to be pleasantly surprised. It really shouldn't work but transposing Saw’s fetish for fiendish man-traps onto a home-invasion movie template makes for an effective scarefest.
Professional thief Arkin (Josh Stewart) needs to perform one last heist in order to clear his ex-wife’s debt to some loan sharks. He’s cased a house undergoing renovations belonging to the wealthy Chase family. Unfortunately for Arkin, on the night he makes his move, the titular super-fiend of the piece has already paid a visit chez Chase and wired the house with enough death dealing hardware to give MacGyver an ulcer.
A spindly grotesque clad in dark fatigues and sporting a tattered mask (think Leatherface meets S&M Chic), the Collector (Juan Fernández) kills those who don’t tickle his fancy and aims to abduct the unfortunates that do. Being an ex-con with a heart of gold Arkin resolves to help the Chase family. So begins a battle of wits between our protagonist and a lethal maniac in the booby-trapped hell house.
The Collector won’t redefine the horror genre nor does it harbour any pretensions of doing so. Much fun is to be had once you’ve reconciled yourself to this fact. Stylistically there’s more than a faint whiff of Dario Argento about the proceedings, a raw energy pervading the piece, Dunstan’s camera seldom still. Ominous tracking shots, time-lapse photography, satisfying slow-mo and well integrated CGI work make for a decidedly handsome film. Then there’s that wonderful score, certain cues reminiscent of seminal prog-rock group “Goblin”. Full of discordant screeches, unsettling gurgles and feral animal growls they thoroughly jangle the nerves.
However where the “The Collector” succeeds most as a horror movie is its creation of a claustrophobic atmosphere of dread and unrelenting menace. Given the pieces close relationship to the “Saw” flicks its ironic how the obligatorily brutal torture sequences are superseded in the fear stakes by good old fashioned cat and mouse mechanics. Arkin trying to protect the youngest of the Chase brood by flitting from room to room, evading the madman by milliseconds and circumventing nasty traps is when “The Collector” is at its most nerve-shatteringly effective.
Dunstan also sees fit to include some refreshing animal violence. Bravo, sir! Its amazing how audiences can revel in the on-screen viscera of humans being maimed and hacked yet go all misty-eyed when Fido gets blasted by a 12 gauge or some moggy gets melted by acid. “The Collector” is to be commended for breaking at least one of the two taboo's of mainstream horror that state kids and animals are inviolable.
Performances are decent from all parties concerned given theres little room for thespian grandstanding in a genre-flick. Josh Stewart exudes a likeable everyman sort of charm as our hero Arkin. Roger Wisdom is convincing in his threatening mob boss role. Hottie Madeline Zima gets her mammaries out with aplomb as the older Chase daughter.
In the end “The Collector” should be judged by a single horror criterion. Is it effective in providing scares? The answer is a resounding yes. It also possesses enough personality to emerge from the shadow of Saw and stand on its own two feet. Disengage your brain from the sheer implausibility of the scenario and ludicrously impractical nature of the traps. Go with the flow of the claret. There’s a decent little shocker to be enjoyed.