It was with more than a little trepidation that I signed up for the review of The Collection. It had already been given the dreaded “torture porn” tag in some circles, and it’s cherubic young female protagonist made me anxious about the type of misogyny and violence that’s symptomatic of such films. It’s the sequel to 2009’s The Collector, a film I hadn’t seen but whose plot seemed particularly squicky. But on the other hand, I love me some horror movies, and I’m always on the lookout for the next pleasantly horrific surprise.
I’m quite happy to announce that The Collection falls mostly into the latter category. While hardly an award winner, it’s an amusingly disturbing way to spend an evening. The film picks up almost immediately after its predecessor, with a quick intro informing us that an unnamed city is being terrorized by a gimp-masked serial killer dubbed The Collector, who invades homes and work places, slaughters everyone in particularly gruesome fashion, and then absconds with one victim, kept alive for purposes unknown. The film focuses on a team of mercenaries, including Lucello (Lee Tergesen), Paz (Shannon Kane), and Wally (Andre Royo, best known as Bubbles from “The Wire”), along with Arkin, the bloodied and haunted survivor from the original, hired to find Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick), who is taken by the Collector after he cleverly and horrifyingly slaughters an entire nightclub full of partiers.
It’s a hell of an opening — within the first ten minutes, we witness how he has rigged an entire facility with a series of vicious and murderous traps designed to turn the partygoers into chum. It’s a fascinating and grotesque introduction, with spinning gears and levers being pulled and all manner of blades and saws and crushing weights reducing literally hundreds of people in red, wet paste.
To tell more than that is to give away the fun, if fun is the word to be used. The Collection is less Hostel and more Final Destination, though. Despite an antagonist known for torturing his victims, director/writer Marcus Dunstan shows thankfully little torture, and instead focused on the wickedly clever and hideously gruesome traps and tricks that the Collector has rigged around the abandoned factory he uses for a lair. Much like Final Destination and its successors revel in the bizarre and complex machinations leading up to each kill, The Collection is less about the killing, and more about laying the trap.
That’s not to say that there isn’t killing. Good lord, there is. The film is bloody and brutal and has more severed limbs and gutted torsos that I’ve seen in a year’s worth of cinema. But it’s not that kind of dehumanizing and overly clinical, slow suffering torture that many modern horror films resort to. It’s a difficult distinction to describe, but it’s an a critical one. It’s also actually scary at times, something that’s lacking in modern horror more often than not. Too frequently tension, pacing, and atmosphere are lazily sacrificed in favor of jump scares and gore. The Collection mixes all of the above up reasonably fluidly. It’s aided in its knotty tension and atmosphere by some spectacularly creepy set design of the killer’s lair, although it’s hindered by too much darkness and more filtering that necessary.
The film is an odd duck in many other ways. It’s barely an eye-blink long, clocking in at a ridiculously brisk 75 minutes (not including the end credits). At that speed, and considering how much of it is focused on action and buildup to the next trap being sprung, there’s little time for character development or even plot. We’re introduced to pretty much every character in the first ten minutes, given backstory to a couple of them, and then it’s off to the meat grinder. Yet despite that, Dunstan has a couple of characters that you actually bother to worry about. Former thief-cum-vengeful-escapee Arkin is enjoyably shell-shocked yet determined, scarred and almost broken by his previous encounter but dedicated to seeing it to the end (once he’s been coerced into helping, anyway).
But the real breath of fresh air is Fitzpatrick, who through a combination of decent acting and smart writing, makes the film worthwhile. Dunstan goes the extra mile to make her a tough, relatively clear-headed protagonist, guileful enough to know when to hide and when to fight, when to scream and when to be quiet. Further eschewing the conventional female-in-trouble trope, she’s never naked, never gratuitously abused, and never even shows a hint of cleavage. She’s a normal girl is a horrific situation, unquestionably scared and tearful and despairing, who desperately tries to fight and claw her way out. It’s sad that this is something that we even have to be impressed by, but here we are.
The film isn’t flawless, of course. It’s supremely over-edited in some scenes, too dark and overly filtered, with a little too much flash over substance. Logically, it makes zero sense in terms of the practicality and plausibility of the entire exercise, and there are times when it really does just feel like Aliens meets Saw with the absurdity ratcheted up to 11. At times it feels less like a film and more like a collection of really nifty (albeit gross and disturbing) ideas with a tenuous, hastily cobbled-together story built to show them off.
Yet I still found myself enjoying it, if “enjoying” is what you feel when watching people get helplessly eviscerated by a silent, twisted psychopath. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it certainly throws some redesign its way, and frankly, for a those 75 minutes, that felt like enough.