Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Starring - Josh Stewart, Michael Reilly Burke, Andrea Roth, Juan Fernandez, Karley Scott Collins
Four viewings and this one still excites me. Easily one of the best horror flicks of 2009, The Collector is also amongst the upper echelon of North American horror in recent memory. (A couple more viewings and this one may cement itself quite high up the chain of horror, period.) Director Marcus Dunstan, and co-writer/partner in crime Patrick Melton, grow far beyond their capable work on wrapping up the Saw franchise, and construct an intense-as-hell twist on the recently popular sub-genre of "home invasion" films, inverting the threat so that it now comes from within. An arsenal of cinematic elements are all masterfully manipulated to amp up the tension, and that is the true beauty of the film; stripping away the amazing kill/torture scenes (of which there are numerous) would still leave the viewer with an established anti-hero, stunning cinematography, stylish editing, and an effective soundtrack. Just one more example of superior film making that will inevitably go widely unheralded due to negative connotations associated with this genre. (Sigh.) Combine these elements with a whole mess of blood and pain, and top it all off with an iconic killer, and the result is one of the best pieces of high-concept horror I have ever seen.
Even the snobbiest non-horror fan would have a difficult time denying the beauty of the most memorable shots; two separate overhead sequences spring immediately to my mind, but I certainly don't want to detract from any of the other segments, overhead or otherwise. The striking, straight down aerial shot as Arkin's car pulls off the back road, headlights cutting through the mist to illuminate scattered flora, remains a quietly foreboding marker of his final separation from the outside world. The second is the overhead circular pan as Arkin and the Collector press upon opposite sides of a door, the wall bisecting the frame, reinforcing the close proximity of the threat and the minimal amount of protection actually afforded by one's home. (Shattering the illusion of the home as sanctuary is one of the many thematic elements prevalent throughout not only this film, but also the entire sub-genre.) I do find it a bit curious that amidst all the skin ripping, lip sewing, and gut spilling, I was continuously taken by the shots of aesthetic value...how very uncharacteristic of me...I must be growing up... From the inserted close-ups of the curling arm hairs or the blood oozing out the keyhole, to the low angle of Larry's blood mixing with water, to the wonderfully disorienting interior of the rolling ambulance with Arkin stationary at the bottom of the frame, many visually innovative choices are made with resounding success. Kudos to cinematographer Brandon Cox and a host of other names I didn't bother to look for during the credits.
Of course, any final product is the sum of it's parts, and their subsequent relation to one another, and The Collector adeptly utilizes all surrounding elements in its construction. The lighting is very notable, taking full advantage of any intruder's necessity for a flashlight or the impending lightning storm. Flashes expose otherwise invisible threats, often providing the viewer with a piece of omniscient knowledge; a classic means of creating suspense. The soundtrack is punctuated with some over-amplified diegetic background noises (ie. the ticking clock or the ever-present crickets,) stressing the notions of urgency and isolation. All of it is seamlessly cut together, often employing rapid crosscutting, always in the name of intensity, and never as a cheap means of copping out on gore. I counted 5 scenes that alternate between simultaneous yet separate zones of action, (too excessive?), and given that I love indulgence, found they all worked extremely well. Most impressive of the batch was the three-point standoff between Jill and her boyfriend (oblivious of everything), the Collector (intently watching them), and Arkin approaching, surveying all parties. It creates a very precarious bond reliant on being unaware of the observer, culminating in Jill's inverted P.O.V. of the lascivious Collector, and explodes into chaos.
Both Josh Stewart and Juan Fernandez lead a strong yet numbered supporting cast, fleshing out their characters as they alternate between the roles of predator and prey. The correlation between the two is much of the reason as to why this isn't simply "cat-and-mouse" fare. Stewart's "Arkin" is well realized, foreshadowing his calmly calculating demeanor and protective tendencies through his early dealings with the wasps and the spider; no coincidence that the Collector is an exterminator... The look on his face as he concedes to re-entering the house to save Hanna exudes as much bravery as it elicits pathos. Fernandez shapes the titular antagonist, face obscured for the film's entirety (as any good serial killer should be), relying on postures and body movements to denote emotion. The salacious manner in which he licks his lips, or anxiously tosses the blade from one hand to the other, or the way he moves purposefully when the situation demands countered by the delicate, almost effeminate, fashion in which he releases the spider, all add small, specific characteristics to a man whose greater details are shrouded in mystery.
International "home invasion" flicks have been exploding in both quality and notoriety, with Funny Games, Inside, Martyrs, and the American-made yet distinctly un-American remake Funny Games breaking ground and making waves, (at least within my own circle-of-one,) while North America anted in with the mildly amusing and fairly safe The Strangers. The Collector marks an effort that ranks alongside its formerly superior brethren. It blends the great elements of film-making without ever losing sight of its gore flick sensibilities. And the blood is fucking awesome. Often in close-up. There's something inherently special about a movie that kills off both a cat and a dog. It also excels in the necessity to feature an iconic masked killer; if the killer is wearing a mask, he better be memorable, otherwise fans won't have something to latch onto. Paint me excited for the sequel, in 3D no less, but what Dunstan and Melton need to avoid here is another Feast 2 debacle; more CGI and silliness did not prevail then, and it will not prevail now. Regardless, The Collector is one more in the growing number of very strong English entries in the realm of horror, exemplifying the re-invigorated respect for the genre.