The Collector (2009)
88 min., rated R.
If human suffering and disembowelment, cleverly coined as “torture-porn,” is the new “horror" or even remains in vogue for the already spit-upon genre, get us the hell out of here. Since the "Saw" movies have made a bundle, with "Saw VI" on its way around Halloween, "The Collector" is pretty much what you'd expect from the same guys—writer-director Marcus Dunstan and co-writer Patrick Melton—that wrote the last two in the series. Originally titled "The Midnight Man," this exploitative little exercise was originally intended to be a "Saw" prequel, but the producers dismissed the idea. Then again, a lot of people die in gruesome fashion via torture traps, so what's the difference?
Handy contractor Arkin (Josh Stewart) is desperate to help his wife (with their little girl in tow), so she can pay off some loan sharks. Formerly a jewel thief, he decides to break into one of his wealthy client's country homes, thinking the owners are on vacation, but finds the house rigged like a booby-trapped chamber of Rube Goldberg horrors and the home's family held captive. There's a masked killer, who has elaborately installed deadly blades on pulleys, knife-studded chandeliers, a bedroom floor carpeted with acidic goo, a bathroom with hanging fish hooks, a staircase embedded with nails, and plenty of wires that when tripped will unleash something painful. Oh, and he also likes chaining his victims inside red boxes as collection items, so remember that for later.
Too bad he's not interesting, just a prowling, unstoppable cipher dressed as the Masked Magician, with as many spoken words as Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees and a backstory/motive completely left by the wayside. Don't worry if you don't understand how "the collector" could find all this time to set up his traps or why he's torturing this particular family; Dunstan and Melton must not have thought any of this mattered because nothing is explained. As Arkin, Stewart looks tired, but for good reason, and makes for a reasonably engaging hero who's faced with familial obligations and a moral dilemma. On screen long enough to show her breasts and get killed, Madeline Zima has surely grown up since "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle" and TV's "The Nanny" as the besieged family's rebellious teen daughter.
Moody and artistically made, with solid sound design but a heavy hand on symbolic spider imagery, director Dunstan's first film at least shows that there's a confident hand behind it. Before the collector actually comes to face Arkin, there is some sustained tension with Arkin hiding in different rooms and being careful not to set off the traps (love that overhead shot of both men separated by one wall). The premise is lean and mean, with a jolt of a home-invasion opening, but there comes a time when the film becomes all brutally cruel eviscerations. For the record, other repellent, gratuitous business includes the pulling of a tongue with a wrench, sewing up lips, and the burning-and-slicing of a pussycat that's bound to offend pet lovers. Sure, these moments will make one wince, but there should be more purpose than shock value alone.
As it turns out, "The Collector" is just another pointless exercise in "can-you-top-this" sadistic torture and nothing else but an infuriatingly anticlimactic ending as icing on the bloody cake. Enter at your own risk.
Grade: C -