I’ll say this for The Collection: it’s not the worst movie being released this week. And as horror sequels go, it actually tries to expand upon its existing mythology instead of just regurgitating the first film. That might not sound like much, but here in the dregs of low-budget slasher-dom, we take what we can get. The Collection spins its wheels far more often than it should, but it cares about its product… which is a lot more than most films of this type can say.
It also lets newcomers catch up quite quickly… a smart move since (let’s face it) the original The Collector didn’t exactly rake in the fans. The first film ended with professional thief Arkin O’Brien (Josh Stewart) locked in a trunk by the serial killer known only as The Collector (Randall Archer). For reasons known only to the marketing department, the trunk ends up at an underground rave, where the Collector has set up a farm combine in the ceiling. Thousands of gallons of fake blood later, O’Brien has escaped, but the rave’s only survivor (Emma Fitzpatrick) has taken his place in the trunk. She has a very protective father, who quickly assembles a team of crack mercenaries to rescue her. They need O’Brien to lead the way, since he’s the only one who’s seen the Collector’s lair and lived.
We thus enter into a supreme mixed bag of a set piece as the mercenaries explore the booby-trapped madman’s den and suffer the consequences. Director Marcus Dunstan scores early points by actually sympathizing with the two victims rather than the killer. He further defies conventions with a group of hardened professionals sporting big guns, a healthy change from the dippy teenagers the genre traditionally thrives on.
Unfortunately, the good elements can’t escape the black hole-like pull of the bad. It starts with the Collector’s home, a ruined hotel that he’s converted into a combination death trap and insect museum. Apparently, he’s a deranged entomologist who stitches his victims’ bodies into giant fleshy approximations of various bugs. I say “apparently” because the film only sketches out the details instead of diving into its full-bore freak show potential. We’re left frustrated at what we don’t see of his work rather than horrified by what we do, and the letdown dogs the picture throughout its second half.
The traps, for their part, skate through a lot of shaky logic, devoid of the menace they need to really grab us. They exist to produce maximum shocks, not to make any sense, and their arbitrary nature gets very boring very quickly. (I’d love to see The Collector get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and inadvertently stumble into one of his fiendish contraptions.)
Speaking of which, the killer himself lacks any proper pizazz. His generic mask and mindless sadism turn him into a flavorless plot device, coupled with his all-too-predictable ability to be everywhere and nowhere at once. He’s not a character, he’s an empty contrivance devoid of any reality of motivation. Dunstan presents him with an eye on immediate impact, not plausible motivation (as when – faced with armed intruders in his sanctum – he pauses to slice open new victims on the table). You need a great bad guy for slasher films to work. This one feels like a pale knock-off rather than a true original.
A deeper problem dogs The Collection, however, which its stronger elements can’t overcome. Dunstan mistakes unpleasantness for fear, reveling in gore for its own sake and destroying any anticipation or suspense in the bargain. It smacks of torture porn and aptly demonstrates why that trend ran its course so quickly. The script avoids the worst of it by making the hero and heroine more capable than we’d expect, but we’re still looking at random bloodletting rather than anything that might actually scare us.
Admittedly, we’ve lowered our sights here and despite its serious problems, The Collection respects us enough to reach for something worthwhile. Stewart makes an appealing hero and the possibility of additional sequels doesn’t frighten me quite as much as I thought. There’s good material here if the filmmakers dig a little harder; they may yet find the magic key that turns it all into something cool. Their efforts simply don’t get there this time. It’s appreciated, to be sure, and it turns The Collection from an ugly mess into something worth a little attention. Just not enough to recommend it: a well-meaning film that aims higher but still misses the mark.