(by Dustin Putman
The incessant once-per-year "Saw" movies and their torture-heavy brethren wore people out, and near the end of the fad's heaviest rotation came 2009's "The Collector," a nasty, to-the-point little yarn written and directed by Marcus Dunstan and co-written by Patrick Melton (2012's "Piranha 3DD"), the team who had previously penned—surprise, surprise—2007's "Saw IV" and 2008's "Saw V." At the time of its release, "The Collector" came off as an inferior hanger-on, a movie of booby traps leading to gore-drenched deaths that only seemed to exist because Jigsaw had made a killing at the box-office. This one, however, did not do nearly as well, even if it did make back its low budget. Watching it again in hindsight, the film is perhaps a bit more clever than it was given credit for at the time, a result of a subgenre burn-out more than a comment on the movie in question's quality. With a minor cult following happening in its wake, Dunstan and Melton have returned for "The Collection," a rare sequel that ably tops the original in just about every department. Trippier and more imaginative, if just as straightforward and unburdened by complexity, the picture is sure to please fans and might even win over some new ones (it is helpful, but not imperative, to have seen "The Collector" beforehand). Article continues below
The masked serial killer of this newly-appointed series has no highfalutin airs like the one in "Saw." His goal isn't to bring death to the immoral, or to teach anyone a lesson. He's a psychopath (and a non-discriminating one at that), doing away with all but one victim at each crime scene whom he locks in a trunk and adds to his devious collection. When teenager Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick) heads out with friends to a top-secret nightclub, the revelry of the crowd ends in a bloodbath when nearly the whole lot of them are mowed down by a thresher that descends from the ceiling. Elena is the sole survivor, having stumbled upon one of the killer's trunks and opened it, setting free former captive Arkin (Josh Stewart) as she herself is snatched up. Arkin is relieved to have survived and been reunited with wife Lisa (Navi Rawat) until a group of gun-toting mercenaries, hired by Elena's father (Christopher McDonald), request that he take them to the culprit's lair. Once inside the long-abandoned Argento Hotel, the murderous traps begin. Meanwhile, having made a crafty escape from her trunk with nothing but her bra strap to guide her, Elena begins her own hair-raising journey to find a way out of her hellish surroundings.
There is something of an explanation at the tail-end of "The Collection" for the villain's evil ways, but before this writer-director Marcus Dunstan and co-writer Patrick Melton keep him a wise mystery whose threat is potent because there's no way of knowing what he's capable of. Whittled down to the necessities, the film, too, is better for it, opening with foreboding news reports about an on-the-loose murderer stalking the area, segueing into the socko set-piece at the nightclub that goes from joyous, even sexy, to outright ghastly at a moment's notice. The meat of the narrative is at the killer's death chambers in the defunct Argento Hotel, and, although the explanation for how Arkin knows where it is located is as far-fetched as they come, the edgy momentum only takes off once they've entered the place. For practically all of its 82 minutes, the pacing never stalls as the characters desperately attempt to take down the lurking killer while evading the traps he's set up. One false move could make it their last, and for viewers with strong stomachs and a taste for the macabre, there is a bit of fun to be had from the situations within. The shooting is far from air-tight, with certain payoffs lacking due to choppy editing, but these passing letdowns are made up for by a freaky production design that renders the hotel a funhouse maze where nightmares come to live. There are pools of decomposing human remains at the end of laundry shoots, hallways filled with posing mannequins, and chambers full of dismemberments and demonic experimentations. One element not lacking from the proceedings is atmosphere.
Josh Stewart (2012's "The Dark Knight Rises") reprises his role as Arkin, in the first film a down-on-his-luck painter whose desperate decision to steal from a family led him directly into the path of the so-called collector. Once more pulled back into danger soon after he is freed, Arkin's trek from an ex-con struggling to keep clean to a hero willing to do just about anything to save others is an arc that Stewart commandingly portrays without any sense of self-congratulatory histrionics. As Elena, a girl who lost her mother and, later, very nearly her father when she was a child, the pixie-haired Emma Fitzpatrick (2011's "In Time") brings a resourceful resolve to her character. Having been through plenty of tragedy in her past, she is not about to die without doing everything she can to survive, and Fitzpatrick gives the part a sympathetic jolt needed to care about her fate. If the rest of the cast are pretty much fodder for evisceration, newcomer Erin Way is a quirky original as Abby, a painted-faced captive Elena meets along the way who may or may not be trusted.
Will "The Collection" keep most people up at night? Probably not. It's consistently involving and definitely wince-inducing in spots—a scene where Arkin asks Elena to rebreak his forearm so he can save them from the metal cage they're locked in comes immediately to mind—but not particularly effective on a lingering scare level. Instead, it works as a crowd-pleaser, the kind of movie that audiences can have a blast with and cheer at the appropriate times without feeling talked down to. In general, characters don't make too many forehead-slapping decisions, a plus for getting lost in the story. With the ending leaving just enough room for one final installment in a trilogy that should go know further than that, "The Collection" is a wild ride satisfying enough to make a person hope "The Collected" won't be too far behind.