The great failure of 2009’s The Collector was that the filmmakers tried to elevate its status as torture porn by weaving in elements of a character study and, most perplexingly, a morality play. My argument was that audiences attracted to graphic depictions of pain and gore wouldn’t care about story or character development. To quote from my own review, “They just want blood and cringe-inducing shots of sharp object penetrating the skin. If you want to make that kind of movie, fine, but don’t bother trying to give it context. Just go for the jugular, figuratively and literally. At least then you’ll have a film with conviction.” Three years have passed, and I still believe this to be true. However, conviction doesn’t automatically equate to something that’s entertaining or even watchable.
Which brings me to The Collection, a sequel I should have seen coming but didn’t. I grant you that it has a lot more conviction than its predecessor, which is to say that it relies far less on plot and far more on skin-crawling depictions of bodily harm. Nevertheless, it wasn’t something I enjoyed having to sit through. Maybe I’m just a prude, but there’s nothing inherently entertaining to me about people getting maimed and/or killed in elaborate, over the top ways. I also have to question its labeling as a horror movie, given the fact that a genuine horrific reaction is impossible when a premise is so obviously ridiculous. There’s not a scene, a line of dialogue, or a character quirk that comes off as authentic; it has all been manufactured by the writers for mass consumption.
The central character of the previous film was a desperate thief named Arkin O’Brien, who needed to rob a house so that his wife could pay off a loan shark. In the process, he was locked in a trunk – or, more accurately, collected – by a masked serial killer known for rigging his target locations with an impossible series of wire-tripped booby traps. In this film, the central character is a teenage girl named Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick), the pixie-haired daughter of a loving but overprotective wealthy man (Christopher McDonald), whose inclusion is about as meaningless all of the death scenes. Elena sneaks out of her father’s sprawling mansion and is taken by a group of friends to a club in some seedy section of the city. After noticing her boyfriend dancing with another girl, Elena tearfully escapes the crowded dance floor and wanders off into another room. There, she notices a trunk, opens it, and discovers a bloody and injured Arkin (Josh Stewart).
It’s at this point that the Collector (the perpetually masked Randall Archer) appears and kills everyone else in the club, either by mowing them down with gigantic, mechanically-rigged rotary blades or by squishing them underneath a section of metal ceiling that lowers unstoppably. Watching this, I had to ask myself: How likely is it that a serial killer, who has by now garnered national media attention, would be able to commit such a monumentally large murder spree in the middle of a very public urban area? Surely someone would have noticed that he took the time to rig the entire establishment with astoundingly intricate booby traps. Perhaps he had accomplices, although the closest we get to even considering the possibility are two shots of a guard at the entrance of the club demanding a password.
Never mind; the filmmakers are obviously not interested in applying logic to their story. The long and short of it is, Elena is kidnapped by the Collector, prompting her father to hire his right-hand man, Lucello (Lee Tergesen), to find her. Lucello immediately turns to Arkin, the only person who has escaped the Collector’s grasp. If he will lead Lucello to the Collector’s hideout, Lucello will see to it that Arkin’s criminal record will be expunged. Using a series of cuts on his arm made while locked in the trunk, Arkin leads Lucello and a team of gun-toting mercenaries to an abandoned hotel, which the Collector has turned into a combination of an obstacle course, a maze, a museum of medical oddities, an insect laboratory, a mortuary, and a slaughterhouse. Arkin is brought into the hotel at gunpoint, having initially refused to step back into the world he successfully escaped.
The rest of the film goes pretty much as you expect it to go. There’s a lot of sneaking through dank, booby-trapped rooms, plenty in the way of gruesome deaths, and even the sudden and unexplained appearance of a disturbed young woman whose only apparent purpose is to look and act bizarrely. One has to wonder why Elena needed rescuing, given how resourceful and clever she proves herself to be throughout most of the film. One also has to question the ending, which espouses not a satisfying emotional climax but rather the disturbing belief that revenge of the most brutal kind is the only appropriate course of action. If The Collection had been a more thoughtful horror film … but why finish that sentence? This is not the kind of story in which thought was involved.
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