Monday, September 23, 2013

The Collector (2009)

Written by: Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan
Directed by: Marcus Dunstan
Starring: Josh Stewart, Madeline Zima, Juan Fernández

Outside of B-Fest, I don't think I've ever had a theater experience where everyone was on exactly the same page quite so much as the time we went to Saw. At this point, with seventeen or eighteen sequels and eleventy billion knockoffs clotting up video store shelves like a pus-filled wound that just keeps oozing no matter how many times you clean it, it's easy to forget how big a deal that movie was when it came out. It was the waning days of the PG-13 slasher, and the horror community had been banging its collective heads against a wall for almost a decade as our beloved genre became increasingly gentrified. Sure, we got the occasional bone thrown to us, but for the most part it was dark times. Then talk started surfacing of this hyper-violent, grim-and-gritty new flick that was going to revitalize horror and make everything great again. Internet hype for months in advance wound everyone up to fever pitch about the savior of the genre. Even I got caught up in it, and couldn't wait to see some blood being splashed across the screen that wasn't followed immediately by a punchline. Holy good goddamn was I in for a disappointment. Saw was one of the stupidest movies I had ever paid to see on the big screen. The script was a mess, the plot didn't make any sense, the acting was risible, and what gore you could even make out through all those fucking washed out blue and green color filters was tepid at best. For this, someone coined the phrase, “torture porn” (as any longtime readers will know, I utterly loathe that term), like graphic violence was something new? Go rent Cannibal Holocaust or I Spit On Your Grave and then tell me again how Hostel made you cry, you bunch of pussies.

But I digress, my point is, every person in that theater was busting a gut the whole time. The movie obviously made a fortune, because they're still cranking the damn things out, so people must like them, but for two hours, in one small room in rural Iowa, 150 or so people laughed harder than if they'd been watching Ace Ventura (yes, that's what I went with – if you don't think that movie is funny you're clinically dead), and it was glorious. I gave the series one more chance when part 2 came out, and to my dismay it was even worse than the first one. It made even less sense, but it was so intent on being dark and gritty and serious that it just wound up being a massive chore without anything to laugh at to break up the monotony.

So when yet another one of the seemingly endless parade of coattail riders hit the screen, this time with a, “from the creators of Saw!” pedigree to add to my disinterest, I avoided it despite hearing some good things. Then, last year, a sequel came out to some more positive word of mouth, and the things being said about it were enough to peak my interest again. After all, I'd had a good many years to wash the taste of Saw out of my mind. Consider me pleasantly surprised.

Arkin is a day laborer by, well, day...obviously...and a small time thief by night. We're not let in on the details, but his antagonistic ex-wife owes rather a lot of money to some unsavory people, and despite the fact that she's an utter bitch to him, she still expects him to help her pay off the scary people with the knives and crowbars. He can't exactly wish her luck with the mob and walk out the door, though, for however toxic their relationship may have become, she has custody of his young daughter, whom he still loves very much and has no wish of seeing with her kneecaps removed. Enter the Chase family. They're a wealthy clan who have just bought an enormous house outside of town, and it's in need of fixing up. Arkin also happens to know Michael Chase has recently acquired an enormous gem to go with his enormous house, and keeps it in a safe on the property. He gets a job on the renovation crew to case the joint, and plans to go in and crack their safe when the family leaves on vacation on the coming weekend. That gigantic rock should be more than enough to pay off his ex's debt and see his daughter safe and provided for.

When Arkin gets inside, however, he discovers that the family never left for vacation. Instead, they have been detained by a masked madman with eerily reflective eyes, who has turned their house into a Rube Goldbergian death trap. One by one the family is picked off, and Arkin manages to get out with his skin mostly intact, but when he realizes the Chase's young daughter – of an age with his own, in fact – is still trapped in the house with the killer, he can't bring himself to walk away knowing he condemned the little girl to a horrible death when he got into this mess trying to save another little girl from a similar fate. He may be a criminal, but he's not a total bastard. Problem is, he's lost the element of surprise, and The Collector is ready for him...

The Collector was originally intended to be a Saw prequel, but the studio said no. That was the best thing that could have happened to this movie. Forced to give their masked killer a distinct identity from Jigsaw, Melton and Dunstan wisely removed any humanizing elements and made him a proper slasher in the vein of Michael Myers. We never see his face, hear him speak, or find out his identity, and his immense strength, ability to absorb a tremendous amount of damage, and unnerving eyes all suggest he may be slightly super-, or sub-human. But the point is never belabored, and the careful dancing around anything that makes him less than a terrifying force of violence is the movie's second greatest strength. I say second greatest, because the first is undoubtedly the truly amazing performance by Juan Fernández. Born to a diplomat to the US from the Dominican Republic, Fernández modeled for many designers and artists, including Salvador Dali. With a background like that, it's no surprise he has such masterful control over his body, and gives an absolutely amazing physical performance. Not since the original Halloween has a mute killer been brought to life with such artistry. Forget the crazy traps (a holdover from the Saw prequel drafts of the script) and the exuberant gore (there are some great kills in this flick that had me clapping and cheering out loud), Fernández's performance is what you will remember long after you've taken the disc out of your Blu ray player. Well, and maybe the cat...

If, like me, you ignored this movie back in 2009 because of its creative pedigree and links to one of the dumbest franchises in the history of horror, do yourself a favor and give it another chance. I hope it doesn't take another three years for a third entry (or that we even get a third entry, period) in the series, because as long as Melton and Dunstan don't get sloppy, or turn their creation over to an even sloppier bunch of dolts like the Saw movies, the Collector could deservedly become a slasher icon.

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