Marcus Dunstan's (one of the writers behind Saw IV, V, and VI) The Collector is being marketed as a horror flick, though it's probably best to describe the film as what happens when Dario Argento's Suspiria gives Elmore Leonard a drunken booty call.
The plot revolves around Arkin (the droopy-eyed, Edward Norton-like Josh Stewart) who works as a handyman at a mansion deep in some (we're never sure where exactly) woods. It seems the house is being remodeled and the family headed for a two-week vacation. The perfect time, in other words, for Arkin to pick the locks and rob the place to pay off the loan sharks circling his wife and young daughter. He gets more than he bargained for, however, when a "simple" burglary turns out to be something much, much worse: Someone monstrous has already broken into the house. It turns out the mansion's occupants haven't gone on vacation, they're being held hostage by a madman with a love of Rube Goldberg inspired torture devices, and he's rigged the house with all manner of "Tom and Jerry"-like booby traps (sticky acid flooring, kitchen knife chandeliers, razor wire and fish hooks). Cue suspense, gore, and shrieking. Lots of Suspiria-inspired shrieking. Article continues below
And just as in Suspiria, most of The Collector's shocks come from the soundtrack. When Argento's horror masterpiece exploded on screens, audiences were stunned by his revolutionary use of color and music. The film literally bled with over-contrasted Technicolor like a Disney fairy tale gone all sorts of wrong. But it was Goblin's (an Italian prog rock outfit) thunderous score that really shook viewers. From the opening frames of the film, with ghostly half whispered/half sung enchantments, to the finale, where cacophonous drums pummel the listener like so many tsunami waves, Suspiria's score is what made the film so incredibly frightening.
Composer Jerome Dillon (former drummer for industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails) clearly has a great love for Goblin's work. His soundtrack for The Collector uses many of the same riffs (the overlaid drums, shrieks, synth washes) while adding new, more contemporary effects (static, pulsating electronic screeches, industrial clanging), to create a disorienting and chaotic collage. The result is spectacular. As with Suspiria, if you were to plug your ears during 90 percent of The Collector's running time, the film would be just half as effective.
As a brow-beaten everyman, Josh Stewart wears the current recession on his face. His need to save his wife is natural and, given today's climate, his choice to rob the family he works for seems almost understandable. He gives the film its center and is entirely believable as a man (not a superhero) caught in an unbelievable situation. The collector of the title is one of the film's crowning achievements. Like a psychopathic contortionist, he arrives in an unmarked box placed carefully in a family's bedroom. Wearing what appears to be a black leotard and some sort of S&M bondage mask (or a Mexican wrestling get-up), his eyes glow in the dark like a raccoon's in headlights. What a strange but effective boogeyman.
Brandon Cox's (an indie and short film vet) evocative camerawork (reminiscent of Peter Deming's work on The Jacket) is surprisingly experimental. While some of it smacks of "just out of film school," most of it is quite beautiful. Director Dunstan (a Project Greenlight grad (Feast)) knows how to block and stage the action in a very limited space and sets up one exquisite slow-mo burner set to Bauhaus' "Bela Lugosi's Dead." There is an overreliance on shots of bugs and spiders (the point is pretty obvious) but the film is very tightly constructed despite the sequel-induced ending.
Where The Collector derails slightly, however, is in its explicit sadism. It's unfortunate that, for many viewers, The Collector will be remembered primarily for its gross-out scenes and over-the-top, grievous bodily harm. Like Hostel and the seemingly neverending Saw franchise, The Collector doesn't shy away from "torture porn" voyeurism. Rather than hint at the barbarism of the villain, we get loving close-ups of teeth being pulled out, lips being sewn shut, and many, many shots of fishhooks piercing derma. Frankly, seeing sequences of such agonizing and bloody suffering in clean suburban multiplexes with shrieking families, giggling tweens, and young parents (with babies busily sucking pacifiers in car seats) makes it all the more disturbing.