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Dustin Putman

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The Collector  (2009)
2 Stars
Directed by Marcus Dunstan.
Cast: Josh Stewart, Karley Scott Collins, Juan Fernandez, Michael Reilly Burke, Andrea Roth, Madeline Zima, Robert Wisdom, Daniella Alonso, Haley Pullos, Diane Goldner, Alexander Feldman.
2009 – 88 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for pervasive bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, July 31, 2009.
A house of deadly booby traps and a masked, glowing-eyed psychopath turn up the gore factor in "The Collector," a "Saw"-like slasher film that earns a few extra points simply for not being a part of that long-in-the-tooth franchise. The similarities, though, are not coincidental, with writer-director Marcus Dunstan and co-writer Patrick Melton having already carved their knives penning the screenplays for 2007's "Saw IV" and 2008's "Saw V." Instead of bogging things down in convoluted overplotting, Dunstan and Melton keep things narratively straightforward with "The Collector." The movie's violence is occasionally flinch-inducing, but to what end? If a horror picture is supposed to scare its audience, then this one has misplaced that goal with an onslaught of broken limbs, chipped-out teeth, and melting pussycats.

The initial set-up is intriguing. Arkin (Josh Stewart) is a down-on-his-luck carpenter whose ex-wife Lisa (Daniella Alonso) desperately needs money to pay off dangerous loan sharks breathing down her and daughter Cindy's (Haley Pullos) necks. With only hours left until her deadline, Arkin opts to break into his current clients' home while they are away on vacation and rob them of the valuable jewels he knows are hidden in their safe. Almost immediately upon getting inside, however, he senses he's not alone. As it turns out, a veiled killer (Juan Fernandez) is also lurking about, having set up grisly traps and deadly trip wires throughout the house. When Arkin discovers the Chase family—father Michael (Michael Reilly Burke), mother Victoria (Andrea Roth), and daughters Jill (Madeline Zima) and Hannah (Karley Scott Collins)—didn't leave for their trip after all and are in dire trouble, he must decide whether to escape with his own life or risk it to save everyone else.

"The Collector" is a by-the-numbers shocker with an oddly arty aesthetic sensibility. The cinematography by Brandon Cox lingers on dark, moody shots of desolate fields, ominous clouds, and an obscured prowling nightmare man. Spiders hanging from their webs is a recurring visual motif, and it's a bit too on the nose, symbolizing the horrors happening behind closed doors. Music portentously sets the tone, with soundtrack cuts from Korn, Depeche Mode, Bauhaus, among others. Take away all of that, and what is left is a cast of half-heartedly developed worm fodder and a fascination with graphic bodily harm. The killer has no motive or personality, unlikely hero Arkin tiptoes around the house rather than using his brain as he attempts to save the imperiled and awfully daft family within, and the silence is broken only by the screams of the latest victim.

Josh Stewart (2008's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button") gets the only meaty role in the film as Arkin, whose lost morality is saved when he puts it all on the line to rescue a family at the hands of a maniac. Stewart, looking like Sean Penn's younger doppleganger, gives some heft to a mostly silent part. After all, there's not much time for small talk when you're running and hiding from a deranged lunatic who locks people up in boxes and collects them like trophies. The other actors are called upon to look pained, frightened, and ultimately dead, and they do it well. Of them, Madeline Zima (2004's "A Cinderella Story"), a long way from her work on '90s sitcom "The Nanny," makes the biggest impression as rebellious, bratty teenager Jill, who may never get a chance to tell her family that she really loves them.

From claw traps waiting to sever body parts to butcher knives hanging from chandeliers to razorblades planted on the windows, the setting is a smorgasbord of doom devices lined up in a row. How did the killer set all of this up in a matter of hours? Don't ask, because it's never explained. "The Collector" succeeds on occasion in getting the viewer to recoil in discomfort or disgust, but director Marcus Dunstan more often than not is unable to fully pay off his gore gags due to low lighting and choppy cinematography. Meanwhile, suspense is low and genuine frights are nonexistent. The climax, leading to a bunch of false endings without finding a single satisfying one, goes nowhere that cannot be predicted from the opening half-hour. "The Collector" is too grisly to not keep one's attention, but the film as a whole is empty, pointless, and overly familiar. It is a safe bet no one will be losing sleep over this minor genre piffle.
© 2009 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman