The DVD case for The Collector takes great pains to advertise the fact that it was made by the same people that brought us the fourth, fifth, and sixth chapters of the Saw films, which is also the team featured on Project: Greenlight that made Feast and its sequel. Having not been a fan of any of those films, I will admit that this connection did not fill me with high expectations for The Collector. I am more than happy to admit when I am wrong, however, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. The Collector brings an almost Hitchcockian level of suspense to the torture-porn subgenre of horror, and crucially makes the audience care more about what will happen rather than how it will happen.
Former professional thief turned contractor Arkin is renovating an aging mansion for the Chase family. The Chases treat him exceptionally well; Mr. Chase overpays him as a token of his appreciation, teen daughter Jill flirts with him, and the youngest Chase, Hannah, invites him to her imaginary tea parties. Arkin appreciates their kindness – even attempting to refuse Mr. Chase’s bonus – but is brought back to the world of reality once he returns home that evening. His wife Lisa has run afoul of a group of loan sharks, forcing Arkin to have to come up with a large sum of money before midnight. After reaching an agreement with some of his underworld contacts and armed with the knowledge the family is on vacation, Arkin sets his sights on retrieving the large, uncut ruby held in the family’s safe.
Arkin takes all of the necessary precautions for the heist despite the family being away, but gets his first clue that things are not what they seem when he is almost attacked by a vicious dog chained in the front yard. The Chases do not have a dog. He carries on with his plan even after finding the alarm already disabled when he arrives at the house. Arkin is startled by a noise when he begins working on cracking the safe and investigates, finding a bloodied Mr. Chase screaming for help. Arkin watches in disbelief as a booby-trap grabs Mr. Chase as he attempts to escape and dangles him precariously over the stair railing. A masked man emerges from the basement to cut him down and Arkin realizes that getting out of the house will be far more difficult than getting in had been. After Arkin discovers Mr. and Mrs. Chase being horribly tortured in the basement, he is torn between escaping with the jewel and saving the life of their young daughter Hannah.
Having a daughter of his own, Arkin naturally chooses the nobler of the two choices, which not coincidentally is the one that allows the film to continue. Arkin and Hannah must now outwit “the Collector”, who has continued to add traps to the house and is now aware of their presence. Arkin’s physical mettle will be tested as well, and he will have to endure the Collector’s torture in an effort to save Hannah and himself.
The Collector does an amazing job of building and sustaining suspense throughout the film. There is a gap between the introductory scenes and when Arkin arrives to rob the house, but most of the film takes place in real time, heightening the tension to an even greater degree. Arkin and the Collector both occupying the same, limited amount of space is excellently realized and there are some good visual moments where we see the floor plan from above to emphasize the near misses the two have. Arkin’s crisis of conscious is also handled well. The audience is aware of his internal conflict without it having to be verbally reiterated. Rather than reminding us of Arkin’s midnight deadline, director Dunstan instead places clocks subtly in the corners of scenes. His decision to return from his guaranteed escape to rescue Hannah feels in keeping with his character, an accomplishment considering there is very little dialogue in the film overall.
As good of a job as The Collector does at being suspenseful, the viewer must suspend a massive amount of disbelief to appreciate it. A lot of The Collector is patently illogical. The biggest example of this is in the fact that the Collector has booby-trapped the entire Chase home, something that he would not have been able to do until after he had subdued Mr. and Mrs. Chase – thus making it unnecessary to booby-trap the entire home.
If one gives the film the benefit of the doubt and assumes that the Collector was aware of Hannah and Lisa and set up the traps after not finding them in the home, it is a case of extreme overkill, as he would not need to go to such elaborate and deadly lengths to capture a teenager and a toddler. You could assume that the traps are there to prevent him from being disturbed while torturing the family, but that too seems unlikely since the film establishes that he takes a voyeuristic interest in watching people be caught in his traps. Thus the film’s central plot device makes no sense – a forgivable offense given that much of the horror genre is predicated on illogic. The only issue I found worth quibbling over is Arkin’s reluctance to attack physically the Collector given his many opportunities to get the jump on him and their comparable sizes.
The Blu Ray disc of The Collector from Vivaldi Entertainment is very well realized. The film has a grainy quality reminiscent of films from the seventies and eighties that translates well on the print, as does the many shadows and blacks in the film, which come through with clarity. In the special features department, we are given an alternate ending, which is far more logical but also a lot more cynical. The deleted scenes do not flesh out the story in any meaningful way and the commentary track seems like it will not be utilized by most viewers as the rewatch value of the film is rather low once you know the twists and turns the plot takes.
The Collector is a very strong film if you can manage the large suspension of disbelief that it requires. I am most impressed by the film’s desire to take the torture-porn style in a new direction and the fact that it gives the audience something more to work with other than gory set pieces. The majority of the actual torture takes place off screen so there is never a point where the suspense is overshadowed by gore. The Collector could very well be the first “psychological” torture-porn film, but I won’t make the claim that it breaks any significant new ground apart from being enjoyable and entertaining and therefore more accessible to general audiences and not just gorehounds. If the genre is to continue into the next decade, it will have to follow the lead of The Collector rather than the Saw films.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.
// Short Ends and Leader
"Alex Garland’s Ex Machina is a darkly funny and philosophical cyberpunk locked-room thriller that tangles with the greatest sci-fi puzzle: What does it mean to be human?READ the article