It’s a fun/odd experiment to watch a film for the first time in order to celebrate its 10th anniversary. Unlike audiences who went in cold in 2009, I went into my first time watch knowing the critical and audience reception, its connection to a pre-existing franchise and, most importantly, the fact that it is the first film in a trilogy.
This is my experience with The Collector, the 2009 double home invasion that was followed by 2012’s The Collection and a currently unscheduled third entry in the franchise entitled The Collected.
Production History: The Collector was co-written by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton and directed by the former. The pair previously collaborated on Saw IV & V, as well as the first and the third entries of the Project Greenlight series, Feast. The influence of the Saw franchise, and the fact that The Collector was originally pitched as a Jigsaw prequel, is readily evident in the finished film, which bears many of the same visual and narrative tropes. A focus on grisly traps, the use of blue and green colour filters, slow motion action sequences and close-ups of bodily injuries abound.
Plot: The film follows Arkin (Josh Stewart), a handyman who works for the Chase family, but is also secretly planning to rob them in order to pay off a bookie who is threatening his wife and daughter. When Arkin sneaks into the Chase mansion the weekend that they are meant to be away, he discovers that the house is filled with a variety of lethal booby traps set out by a homicidal maniac called The Collector (Juan Fernández), named after his proclivity for keeping a single family member alive.
Characters: While the entire Chase family is at The Collector’s mercy, the reality is that only Arkin and Hannah (Karley Scott Collins) truly receive any substantial screen time. Arkin is a good audience proxy; Stewart has an everyman feel to him, particularly the fact that he’s not an action superhero and he makes more than a few mistakes, including a painful hand injury early in the film.
Despite these relatable qualities, however, due to the premise of the film, Arkin is by himself for the majority of the film and he must remain silent in order to avoid drawing The Collector’s attention. This means that the audience knows him primarily through his early interactions with the Chase family and the fact that he has a family in peril (a plot point that is hilariously unimportant considering the cliffhanger ending). Arkin has a bit of back story, but at the end of the day, he is a fairly one-dimensional character.
Then there is Hannah, the Chase family’s youngest daughter. Even when she becomes embroiled in the conflict, Hannah is little more than an object for Arkin to protect. She exists primarily to remind Arkin of his own daughter and to keep him in the house for the third act.
As a first time viewer, the element that proved the most disappointing is actually The Collector himself. The decision to keep his identity and face hidden is fine (there’s usually something scarier about a villain whose backstory is unknown); it’s his costume that feels uninspired. It’s far too generic: a simple all black outfit with a mask that ties in the back. It’s a touch reminiscent of the Scarecrow in Nolan’s Batman films, but it’s not all that memorable a look.
Add to this the fact that The Collector is non-verbal. Aside from some flashes of his eyes as he watches his victims or the speed with which he moves, The Collector doesn’t show a great deal of personality. The one exception? When he licks his lips while watching Chad and Jill make out in the kitchen. Here’s hoping the villain of the franchise gets a few more memorable moments in future films.
Kills: While it is easy to criticize the film for its underdeveloped stock characters, the reality is that The Collector’s specialty is, like Saw, its overly intricate kill sequences. In addition to the non-fatal injuries (Arkin’s severe hand injury and The Collector’s own impalement by knife chandelier), the film’s deaths include:
Michael Chase (Michael Reilly Burke) – the head of the household: hung upside down and gutted
Victoria Chase (Andrea Roth) – the matriarch: repeatedly stabbed and lips sewn shut
Jill (Madeline Zima) – the Chase’s oldest daughter: flung through the air into a board full of nails
Chad (Alex Feldman) – Jill’s boyfriend: stabbed in the hand, fingers severed by machete, before falling into multiple bear traps
Larry (William Prael) – The Collector’s previous victim / bait in a box: Electrocuted by a combination of fish tank water and TV
EMT: Stabbed in the face with a knife
While several of which are
10 Years Later: At the risk of once again being labeled a SJW snowflake, it is extremely jarring for your film’s protagonist to repeatedly use a derogatory gay slur in a climactic scene. Social progress has come a long way in the last ten years, but even in 2009 this would have felt inappropriate (and wholly unnecessary in the grand scheme of the narrative). Considering the film’s R rating includes a “language” designation, Dunstan and Melton clearly had a litany of other profane language at their disposal. The creative decision to include a homophobic slur doesn’t land well, particularly in 2019. The regular ‘f’ word – f*ck – was right there, guys.
The other component of the film that hasn’t aged incredibly well (and I’ll concede that horror fans’ waning tolerance for this is definitely more of a new development) is the inclusion of animals that exist solely to be killed. In The Collector, there is not one, but two animal deaths: one is The Collector’s dog, whose head in set on fire and the body is shot in mid-air; the other is a graphic two-stage murder of the Chase family cat. Neither animal is heavily featured outside of a few scenes, but the cat’s death is grisly and prolonged (it gets caught in adhesive acid, tossed by Arkin onto the windowsill and then decapitated moments later). While the dog’s death is nearly applause worthy because it is the villain’s accomplice, the cat’s death feels overtly sadistic. It is easily one of the more challenging sequences to watch in the film.
Final Thoughts: The Collector is as mean and graphic as promised, which – for the most part – is a good thing. As a fan of the Saw movies, the connective tissue to the Jigsaw franchise is immediately evident. It’s quite easy to imagine this as a late-in-the-franchise entry pitched by Dunstan and Melton.
Still, considering the film’s relatively straightforward plot, the paper thin characters, and, most surprisingly, a slightly bland villain, the biggest surprise is that this little film turned into a franchise. The quick 90 minute runtime and the low budget ($6M) likely helped, but The Collector baaaaarely broke even, grossing only $7M. That is a paltry sum, so clearly the film’s dedicated fanbase and/or easily extended premise is what nabbed it a (by all accounts better) sequel.
Take-Away: Would I have thought the film had franchise potential back in 2009? Probably not.
Am I eager to check out The Collection? Oh hell yeah!
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Author : Joe Lipsett
Publish date : 2019-07-31 13:35:11