What do you get when you combine the harsh (and occasionally leering) nastiness of the Saw series with the slightly more cerebral approach delivered in "home invasion" thrillers like The Strangers? You'd probably get something that looks a lot like The Collector, which is the directorial debut of screenwriter Marcus Dunstan. (If you've seen the Feast flicks and the Saw sequels, then you're familiar with Dunstan's stuff.) You won't find much Feast-style silliness here, although the Saw fans will certainly notice the inclusion of bleak, brutal horror that's become the touchstone of the Saw franchise. Best of all, The Collector is a simple, basic, and fast-paced horror thriller that wastes nary a frame on unnecessary set-up, languid exposition, or pointless subplots.
All you need to know is this: Our hero is a criminal. Well, not a raving criminal, but Arkin is clearly a whiz when it comes to breaking and entering. Although employed as a handyman, Arkin is compelled to rob an affluent client's house in order to pay off a ruthless loan shark. Suffice to say the poor guy would have had better luck with the loan shark, because THIS house has been overtaken by a savage psycho who enjoys long games of terrorize, torture, and kill. So not only does our main character start out as a sympathetic burglar who becomes trapped in a madman's horror show ... but he also has to consider the folks he was originally planning to rob. In other words, Arkin tries to save the day. And he's not doing a real great job of it, frankly.
So already Dunstan has laid down a clever horror hook, one that's certainly not revolutionary but does a solid job of combining two popular sub-genres of the horror field, plus he's also experienced enough to include a great musical score by Jerome Dillon, a smooth and creepy visual approach, and an affection for gore that approaches the line of R-rated nastiness, but doesn't overdo it either. He's helped mightily by newcomer Josh Stewart (he looks and 'acts' a lot like a young Sean Penn), who throws the whole freaky flick on his back and offers us a surprisingly empathetic lead character. We "buy" the guy's plight with no problem, and it's a testament to the actor that we (almost instantly) start to feel for the guy -- even though he's a crook.
But if you ask me, the real heroes of The Collector are editors Alex Luna and James Mastracco. It's been a long time since I've seen an 88 minute horror film that blew by like it was 38, but once it sets up the scenario, this flick hits the ground running and never looks back.
Horror freaks will be interested to learn that an early draft for The Collector (then called Midnight Man) was originally envisioned as a Saw prequel, but when that project didn't happen Dunstan (and longtime co-writer Patrick Melton) re-wrote the screenplay as an original piece. The horror freaks will be doubly interested to learn that the finished film was purchased outright from Dimension, simply because another distributor (Liddell / Freestyle) liked the movie a whole lot more than the Weinsteins did. The new distributors' confidence in the film is painfully evident, they're releasing a "no stars, no teenagers, hard R" horror film in the middle of the summer movie season. All by itself that makes a horror supporter like me very happy indeed. The fact that The Collector is a rather fine horror film is just the icing on the cake.