The Collection (2012) – Marcus Dunstan

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When we hear the word ‘sequel’ it instantly conjures up a certain feeling- like the one we get when we hear ‘remake’  or ‘Hitler’ but marginally less unpleasant. The reason for this is pretty simple. When a sequel is made, it’s generally something that was planned after the original film was written, filmed, released, and had some commercial success. So there are different motives for making a sequel than there are for making the original. And that basically boils down to “I want to tell a great story” vs. “I know an easy way to cash in on that story I told 2 years ago.” There’s nothing wrong with that-it’s the American Dream. But all too often, we see sequels just basically telling us the same story again. And to make up for the lack of originality, they crank up all the non-essentials, leading to a film that’s top-heavy. All sizzle, no steak, as they say.

Marcus Dunstan’s 2012, The Collection (follow-up to 2009’s The Collector) falls into this typical sequel trap. That’s not to say it was a bad movie (but it might be), I’m just saying it feels very sequel-y. In the first film, we had about 10 deaths, while this one has closer to 200. There’s an unexplained 2-3 minute dance party/techno music scene (think: the underground dance scene in the second Matrix movie) that contributes exactly nothing to the story. We get to see into the Collector’s lair, or his headquarters or whatever. It turns out to be an enormous hotel/mad science lab/elaborate Saw trap. Everything is so over the top like this, that it starts pulling you out of the realm of reality, in which we were firmly planted in the original.

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(Warning: Minor spoiler to the end of the original film)

The Collection picks up a short time after the first film ended. Arkin (our hero) is still trapped in the box. Though he’s been moved (ostensibly, to the Collector’s hideout and then) to a back room in a secret underground dance club. We hear news reports that this guy has been very busy slicing, dicing and kidnapping people. Our new co-main character, Elena, happens to this dance club. The collector has rigged up some industrial farming equipment with spinning blades (google “combine harvester”) to mass murder all the ecstasy-fueled dancers. Elena is the sole survivor, Arkin escapes and the Collector takes Elena back to his hideout.

Arkin, the only person who knows where the collector lives, teams up with some mercenaries, hired by Elena’s father, and they go to save her. At this point the movie turns into a gory/torturey survival horror movie much like Saw II. The badass mercenaries get picked off one by one as they stumble through the trap-infested maze that is the Collector’s lab. There are all sorts of human experiments and bodies everywhere. Razor wire and spring loaded traps in every room. Empty elevator shafts while piles of dismembered body parts and pools of blood. Drugged up experiment victims/zombies that attack the good guys…basically the most hostile environment imaginable. Everything is very predictable and you can probably guess the ending.

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I had two main problems with the film. The biggest was the lack of real character development. I loved the first movie because you get into Arkin’s head. You sympathize with and root for him immediately even though he’s a criminal. In this movie, we get exactly 0 development for him. In fact, he comes off as kindof a pussy. Everyone else in the movie was just a walking cliché. Elena is the closest to a real person. There’s a half-hearted attempt at some pathos/backstory that never gets followed up on. But then she rips apart her bra and MacGyvers the underwire into a hook/flimsy pretext to have her nips poking out for the rest of the film.

The other thing that bugged me was the sheer amount of work that it would take for the Collector to actually be able to build, maintain and operate this whole carnival of death/science lab from hell. The logistics are mindboggling. Where does he find the time? And the energy? This dude is somehow able to set up house after house after house into elaborate murder traps, kill everyone but one sole survivor, then take that survivor to his lair and do experiments on them. He’s got to have a degree in mechanical engineering, and some sort of human medical degree, and he’s also a licensed etymologist (this final fact is all but irrelevant in this film).

Anyway, the verdict is, it was a fun, but forgettable sequel to a great movie. They should have kept it a little closer to reality and focused more on the characters. Like, why don’t we know anything about the Collector himself? Don’t worry, they left the door wide open for “The Collection Agency: Dunstan’s Credit Cards are Past-Due so He’s Making Another Movie”

  1. Is it scary? 3You’re too distracted by the lack of logical progression to be scared. It turned out to be more of an action movie than a straight horror.
  2. Originality: 4– The Collector’s bachelor pad was definitely worth some points here. But the movie falls flat in terms of being anything we’ve never seen before.
  3. Blood: 8– From start to finish, there’s blood shooting across the screen. Incomplete medical experiments and body parts all over the place. The dance club massacre scene was pretty perfect to set the mood.
  4. Believability: 4The whole thing felt like a cheesy 90’s movie that they’d show on basic cable on a Saturday afternoon (anything with Van Dam or Steven Seagal). Cookie cutter action and violence. Clichés on top of clichés.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 6– They definitely did some cool things with light and shadows. The torture chamber setting was certainly effective, albeit heavy handed.                                                                                                                        

Final Score: 25/50

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The Collector (2009) – Marcus Dunstan

The Collector movie poster

Sometimes, it’s hard to tell what you like about a movie. Using all the normal criteria, you could look at a movie and say “this should suck.” But sometimes there’s something else going on that makes you like it. Marcus Dunstan’s 2009 flick The Collector is one of these movies. It feels mediocre, but when you watch it, you really enjoy it. There’s noting terribly novel about it. It seems like Dunstan just took Home Alone, and added some choice pieces of the Saw movies but for some reason, it works. First of all, the casting is great. I like the backstory and the way we’re set up to empathize with Arkin, the main character. He’s likable, though flawed. I think it brings a sort of realism to a fantastic and unlikely situation. And even though he’s not perfect, you root for him because he’s a good guy.

Let me back up before I get too sappy. This is essentially a torture porn flick with a little more charm. Arkin is a semi-reformed convict who gets a job as a handyman for a rich jeweler. Jeweler and family are about to go on vacation for a few weeks and homeboy is setting up the house with better locks, bars on windows etc. Soon we find out that Arkin’s wife owes some unsavory characters a bunch of money and there’s going to be big trouble if he doesn’t scrounge up the green by midnight. So he decides to break into the jeweler’s house to steal some rocks to pay the debt.

When he gets to the house, it becomes clear that the family never made it on vacation and that there’s somebody else there with a creepy mask and more sinister motives than robbery. Dad and mom are bound and gagged in the basement and the little daughter is missing. It seems like older daughter is out of the house on a date. Arkin decides to be a good guy and abandon his robbery mission to try and save the family and find the lost daughter. There are booby-traps all over the house-razor blades, acid, knives, bear traps, nails, fish hooks…the works. I know what you’re thinking- It sounds like there are not enough characters to rack up a good head count, but the older sister and her boyfriend show up and there’s a mysterious stranger trapped in a box as well as some law enforcement personnel so we’re still able to stack up some bodies. The killer has rigged the house so that it’s just about impossible to get out. So now Arkin is trapped in the house, trying to save everyone, and we’re not sure if the killer even knows he’s there.

The collector shotgun

Throughout the movie, the suspense slowly builds and everything gets more and more intense. It’s all paced really well and the timeframe of the movie works great with the suspense.  As things are getting worse and worse in the house, you know that he’s on a deadline to get out of the house and back to his wife with the rock by midnight or she’s in trouble. Though the camera work isn’t the best I’ve ever seen there are some shots that help add to the tension and suspense. One of the best is a great overhead shot where the killer is 6 inches away from Arkin who’s hiding behind a door. Where will he go? It’s dead silent for these types of scenes and you’re just dying waiting to see what will happen.

Everything in the movie sounds perfect too. Arkin hears creeks and footsteps from elsewhere in the house. Is that the missing daughter, or the killer? Someone is whimpering and screaming from the basement through the air vent. The sound effects are crisp and really let you hear every little detail. Sometimes those details are pretty gross and hard to listen too. But it’s visceral and it really grounds you as if you’re there in the house with them.

The house in this film is wired with some pretty wicked and fucked up traps. At a certain point, it almost feels gratuitous, but they they reign it in just in time.  Dunstan has found the line between too much gore/torture vs. not enough plot/substance to back it up. He’s teetering on this line for most of the movie, but I never really got the feeling that he was relying on the gore/torture to progress the plot. And that’s the only reason I can follow him.

Collector box

Like I said, on paper, the movie is mediocre at best. Maybe it’s the way the plot is paced and the fact that it keeps you guessing that really did it for me. Who is the killer? Why is he doing this? There’s a decent amount of jump scares but it doesn’t feel too gimmicky. The majority of the scares come from the suspense. He’s practically beating you over the head with suspense by the end (which, by the way, I had some issues with the end-logical potholes and things that didn’t quite make sense, but I’ll let them slide because I really liked this movie.) There’s a sequel in development now and I’m looking forward to it.

  1. Is it scary: 6- Like I said, it’s vicious and suspenseful. And based in reality so that adds some scare-factor too.
  2. Originality: 4- Not really anything new here. I guess it’s a new spin on the genre, but he didn’t really invent anything new.
  3. Blood: 7- For what it was, there could have been more blood, but I think Dunstan did a good job treading the line and not taking this too far over the top.
  4. Believability: 6- Overall, I guess I bought it but there were some pretty big red flags. Without giving too much away, I will say that if you’re in the basement of a house, you’re going to hear it if someone is screaming at the top of their lungs upstairs. There was too much of this kind of thing.
  5. Setting/Cinematography: 7- The setting is great. It’s dark, its dangerous and you can’t escape.  There were a couple of cool camera shots that added to the effect, but I would have liked to see more. 

Final Score: 30/50

THe Collector blood