Film Review: The Collector (2009)

Let's get this out of the way real quick: The Collector is not a very good film. I'd be hard-pressed to say it goes beyond mediocre for any good length of time in the entire film. The direction of the actors is poor, as the best performance is given by a child who comes nowhere close to scared kid in slasher/home invasion/hybrid flick standards so clearly set by one-film wonder Carrie Henn in Aliens.

We've hit the purpose of the review. The Collector is not "torture porn." The collector is a home invasion film mixed with a slasher film, much like last year's The Strangers. The killer, who will be referred to here as The Exterminator as he is called in the film, wears a scary mask that lets you see his eyes and mouth. He lumbers through the house with almost super-human senses as he is capable of hearing a fish hook swing on a line two flights up while toying with prey in the basement. He is clearly off his rocker and presented as an inhuman monster in the film. A survivor guy, Matthew McConaugheyed by Josh Stewart with a southern accent and winky grin that pops out every other line even though the character isn't southern or charming, does his best to help everyone escape before a final showdown with The Exterminator. Hence, a slasher film.

The family, already captured, is trying their best to avoid trouble from the mysterious Exterminator by keeping quiet and hiding as best they can givein their restraints. A stranger has entered their home and wishes to do bad things to them. They do not know who they can or can't trust, as another stranger, Matthew McConaugheyed by Josh Stewart with a southern accent and winkygrin that pops out every other line even though the character isn't southern or charming, tries to help them escape. However, because they family does not know who to trust in their state of invaded panic, they don't always listen to his advice and face consequences for it. Hence, a home invasion film.

But what of this "torture porn" label being bandied about? It's woefully misplaced on a by-the-numbers slasher film presented in a home invasion environment. If this film is "torture porn," then we need to rewrite film history and retcon the term on greater classics of the genre.

For example, the stained glass window sequence, bird attack, and razor wire room in Suspiria are all far more explicit and depraved than anything that happens in The Collector. You see more of the details in Suspiria and watch extended sequences of human suffering clearly designed, in 2009 eyes, to provide some sexual thrill to sick bastards. Hence, because it's more violent than "torture porn" flick The Collector, it, too, must be "torture porn."

Or how about The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. If the level of violence shown, not just implied by careful editing and effective practical effects displaying the end result but not the process of the attack, in The Collector merits being called "torture porn," then surely seeing the after effects, but never actually the attack, of Leatherface in the original MOMA-housed Texas Chainsaw Massacre means that it is also "torture porn".

Why, Psycho must be "torture porn" as well for showing so much more blood being spilled in one scene than The Collector shows for the majority of its running time. The shower scene lasts longer than any gore scene in The Collector.

Clearly, by modern definition, much of the respected horror ouvre is "torture porn." People are shown suffering for our enjoyment. By modern definition, Alfred Hitchcock, Tobe Hooper, and Dario Argento are merely sick bastards who feel so imasculated by society they must prove their manhood by getting off on women in distress and bloody.

Yet, I don't hear too many people going nuts over the level of violence in Suspiria (normally called beautiful, nightmarish, and brilliant) or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (again, housed at MOMA for the quality of artistic filmmaking), or even Psycho (some won't even call it horror for fear of ruining its reputation). The fact remains, no mainstream US film has ever really been "torture porn." That genre exists for a small market and is serviced by the erotic, not mainstream nor independent, film industry. Every violent film is not "torture porn," as far more violent films exist in the history of cinema on an international stage than any film created by someone connected to the Saw series.

This does not make The Collector a better film than it is. The most inventive scenes were all done before to far greater effect in films ranging from Ichi the Killer to Battle Royale to Dee Snyder's Strangeland, just to get the obvious references out of the way. The film plays on light and darkness like Universal Monster and Val Lewton films. There is a masked killer like the slasher wave of the late 70s/early 80s. And traps are set, just like Suspiria among many other horror films featuring booby-traps long before James Wan and Leigh Whannel were born.

Will a horror fan get a kick out of The Collector? Absolutely. It's tense and features some pretty impressive practical (not CG) effects, even if the violence is rarely executed on screen and the quality pales in comparison to Black Christmas, Halloween, or even Friday the 13th.

The human mind is a powerful thing. There are those who swear they saw Leatherface impale victims on meathooks in the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, even though it's never shown. There are people who passed out at screenings from seeing a woman cut her body up with razor blades and knives in In My Skin, even though it's never shown. There are people who swear up and down they know what Rosemary's Baby looks like because it's the last shot of the film; again, false memories. So will people actually believe they saw evisceration, eye gouging, and teeth pulling in The Collector even though the actual event is never shown? Yes. And they will cry out "torture porn."

Hmm...maybe I'm underestimating the strength of this film. If not showing anything can get blood boiling this much, maybe there's more to it than I initially thought. For right now, I'll say it's mediocre in its best moments. The plot is too limited and the acting too poor to really rise above that. But for slasher fans? Please enjoy. It's one of the better ones in recent years. And I'm not going to go on a rampage if I see teaser posters for The Collector II in a few months.