'The Collection' Review: Whose Nightmare Is This, Anyway? [Fantastic Fest 2012]

I should have skipped out of The Collection five, maybe ten minutes after it began. It took just that much time to realize that the movie really is only a basic exploration of a simple premise, and ultimately (for different reasons) not for me. The sequel to 2009's The Collector is once again written by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, with Dunstan directing. Crafty masked machinist killer the Collector returns to menace more innocents, this time losing hold of Arkin (Josh Stewart), one of his last victims, as he attacks a rave full of revelers and takes a new living prisoner, Elena.

Knowing based on the Collector's previous patterns that Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick) is likely alive, her father's commando-like right-hand man recruits Arkin to pursue the killer along with a small team of mercs. This does not end well. Presumably, that's a good thing, as there's really no reason to watch The Collection other than to see the various ways that characters are dispatched.

I'll say this: Dunstan has made a film that is wholly unpretentious and fully aware that it exists only to provide a few visceral thrills. It wastes no time getting to the bloody action, and steadily ramps up the violent intensity as over-confident mercs learn the folly of their gung-ho approach, and other living victims of the Collector start to invade the periphery.

That said, it is also a garishly-lit, very campy affair, and the characters are terribly artificial and created to die. So even in the context of simple entertainment, it's hard to take any of it seriously. Good effects and imaginative demises help keep the momentum high, but it wasn't long at all (that previously-referenced five or ten minutes) before I began to suspect The Collection didn't have any real tricks up its sleeve. It doesn't; even the weird vision prominently displayed on the poster amounted to zip. The movie is a corridor crawl; kind of a horror movie Home Alone, without the enduring characters.

Before the movie, I had a minor conversation with the guy next to me, where we ended up trading Georgia city crime stories. His, things involving drawn guns and carjacking in Savannah; mine, the spate of fully random violence in neighborhoods around my former Atlanta residence, including the guy who tried to kidnap a woman by snatching her from her porch and stuffing her into his car trunk. That stuff is faceless, and scary, and weird. As a character, the Collector is faceless and weird, but not scary at all. The first 99% of the film features not one action that pegs him as anything other than a construct, and by the time we do get a little humanity out of the guy, it was far too late for me.

That makes The Collection safe, and easy to watch as a piece of disposable entertainment. Indeed, that seems to be exactly the point, and that's fine. I can't ding the movie for the slight ambition, but I can for failing to craft more than one or two characters who really feel as if they belong in the film's world. There's one character who factors into a strange psycho-sexual power play, a woman who has been held by the Collector for a while. She adds some of the most genuinely weird and creepy nuance to the story, but doesn't have a lot of influence over the action in the long run.

The slasher spirit that made successes out of franchises such as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street is still alive in many films, but Dunstan often treats the Collector like a killer in a giallo film rather than a slasher villain. So he sticks to the shadows, and is shot in fragmented style. We see hands, feet, the back of his head, and the occasional close-up of his beady, dead eyes. That's meant to crate the illusion of menace, but for me it prevented the guy from ever cohering into something to be scared of. There's an audience for that sort of lightweight horror/action, and five or ten minutes into The Collection you'll probably know whether you're part of it, or not.

/Film score: 4 out of 10