The new horror film The Collector doesn't dilute its intense scenes with comedy or cartoonish visuals: it goes straight for the shocks. The pre-credits teaser scene gets your adrenalin going without visible bloodshed, and prepares you for something suspenseful and a bit strange. To set your expectations, it might help to know that writer Patrick Melton and co-writer/director Marcus Dunstan also scripted the Feast films and the third through sixth Saw films. In fact, the script was once considered for a Saw prequel film. Now you know what you might be getting into in terms of horror style.
The first 20 minutes of the film start a little awkwardly -- it takes a few minutes to figure out who's who -- but then the stage is set for major suspense and scares. Arkin (Josh Stewart) finishes a contractor job at a family's fancy house in the country. He's not paid enough to give his own daughter's mom the money she needs to evade some nasty loan sharks, though. So he decides to break into the rich family's house, since he knows they just left for a vacation, and steal some jewelry to make up the difference. He's got a deadline of midnight. And while Arkin's working to crack the safe, he hears disturbing sounds coming from the cellar ... what else is happening in what is supposed to be an unoccupied house? The mysterious noises helped set me up for the kind of horror movie that forces you to use your imagination to visualize all sorts of unspeakable terrors. Unfortunately for me, this wasn't the case. The Collector takes a decidedly graphic turn with its violence. For the rest of the movie, I had to wince my way past a variety of visuals of painful scenarios. I have enough trouble with knives, but also had to tolerate razor blades, pliers, bear traps, and other implements that I will leave you to discover if you watch the movie.
The plot is focused almost entirely on escape -- there are no nuances and few other complications, and it's all on the level of a particularly nasty Itchy and Scratchy cartoon. The point is to make you gasp and jump and feel riveted with tension. The initial setup and characters take a back seat to the central set piece of the house and the way it has been transformed. Some things simply make no sense -- how could the house be so elaborately changed in such a short time? And why doesn't a contractor/thief carry a cell phone?
Josh Stewart plays Arkin in a Clive Owen-ish sort of way, which is not at all a bad thing -- it's his character that kept me interested in the film. Most of the other characters are unpleasant, unsympathetic and not very bright, and the villain is barely a character at all. Still, having to sit through a bad guy's backstory can be tedious, and the film moves quickly by avoiding this kind of slowdown. He is what he is.
And the movie is what it is: a very straightforward showcase of horrors. Like Drag Me to Hell, The Collector takes audience members on a crazy rollercoaster ride -- the difference is that Sam Raimi's style is comically cartoonish, but The Collector is uncompromisingly hardcore in its depiction of horror. The contrast is extremely clear when you compare the scenes involving a pet cat in both movies -- we don't see exactly what happens in Drag Me to Hell, but The Collector's cat scene was unbearable.
By this time, you can tell that I'm not a fan of movies that feature prolonged graphic violence. I prefer my horror to be spiked with dark humor or occurring offscreen. The Collector was obviously not the movie for me. However, the action moves quickly and there's never a dull moment after the first act, although the film is hampered with more endings than The Return of the King. If you want 90 minutes of staring intense shocks and scares in the face, without fussing over storyline or characters, you might give The Collector a try.