The Collection (shot in Atlanta) was a sponsor of the Buried Alive Film Fest this year. In fact, one of the festival organizers worked on the flick. Coincidentally, the trailer for The Collection was shown before each block of programming. I have a hunch that these facts may be related. During a smoke break in the indie goodness, the question “why the hell would anyone release a major horror movie at the end of November” was brought up. With a few notable exceptions, November isn’t known for its horror releases. During that conversation, however, it occurred to me that this is the PERFECT time for a movie like The Collection. Think about it. Everyone just had to deal with their families at Thanksgiving. Everyone is about to have to deal with their families again at Christmas. What evokes more homicidal rage than a family get together? Damn near nothing, that’s what! With so many people fantasizing about slaying the in-laws, a little vicarious wholesale slaughter just might be what the family therapist ordered. The question is…is it any good?
Synopsis: When Elena is talked into attending an underground warehouse party with her friends, she finds herself caught in a nightmarish trap where the revelers are mowed, sliced and crushed to death by a macabre series of contraptions operated by a masked psychopath. When the grisly massacre is over, Elena is the only survivor. But before she can escape, she is locked in a trunk and transported to an unknown location. Fortunately for Elena, one man - Arkin - knows exactly where she’s headed, having just escaped from there with his life and sanity barely intact. Going back is the last thing on Arkin’s mind, but Elena’s wealthy father hires a crack team of mercenaries to force Arkin to lead them to the killer’s lair. But even these hardened warriors are not prepared for what they encounter: an abandoned hotel-turned-torture-chamber, rigged with deadly traps and filled with mangled corpses. Can Arkin and the team get to Elena before she too becomes part of his gruesome "collection"?
The star of this film, and its biggest strength, is the hotel that serves as The Collector’s lair. This place is a masterpiece. It’s HH Holmes’ (or Triple H as his friends knew him) deepest, darkest, sickest, wettest dream. All the credit in the world goes to everyone involved in its creation, from the production designer to the set dressers to the art department. I loved how it didn’t have a single motif that dominated the expansive compound. Almost every room had a different look; some clinical, some decrepit, some dungeon like, some almost beautiful, and all depraved. It’s part Suspiria dance academy, part Hostel torture palace, part Home Alone obstacle course gone horribly wrong, part Texas Chainsaw Massacre style gallery of WTF, and part deathtrap a la, well, The Collector. The multiple color and lighting schemes work together perfectly to make this house of horrors seem like a nightmare-scape come to life. I could go on and on about the creep-out paradise the majority of this flick takes place in, but there are only so many ways I can espouse just how much ass it kicks. The last time I dug a house in a horror flick this much was the House on Horror Hill remake, and anyone who knows me can tell you how much I loved that house. The set design is worth the price of admission by itself.
If only a fraction of that excellence shown in the production design had bled over into the screenplay. Man, this flick was poorly written. Not the dialog, but the actual story. There are plot holes that you could fit Tarantino’s ego through, and leaps of logic that (insert today’s equivalent of Michael Jordan here since I don’t know shit about sports) couldn’t pull off. The lack of attention to detail is amazing. Let me give you an example. This isn’t a spoiler, since we all saw that cool “combine harvester blade in the nightclub” gimmick in the trailer. A character escapes becoming just more gore on the dance floor (yes, that’s a Casket Creatures reference) by falling down. Yep, he falls down and the thing misses him while it takes off everyone else’s head. Obviously this contraption is moving from one end of the room to the other at noggin level. Why did no one else duck? Even the dumbest character could put two and two together. If you’re gonna have hundreds of people die by a single device in your flick, don’t make said device so easily avoidable. It raises too many believability questions. What if there were midgets getting down in there? The Collector seems like too thorough of a guy to overlook a possibility like that.
I know that might seem like a nitpicky thing to point out, but most of the REALLY big “what the hell is going on here” story gaffes are major plot points, so I’m gonna leave those for you to facepalm at on your own. The main offender throughout the film is the character of Arkin. He makes some decisions and does some stuff that contradicts things he did minutes prior, are completely out of character for him, and downright make absolutely no sense. He does have one shining moment of brilliance. It’s a truly novel bit, plus it leads to an extremely well executed moment of comic relief. Most of the time, however, a case could be made for the character being either schizophrenic or sub-Gump level stupid. I wish I could explain more, but I’m treading dangerously close to spoiler territory here.
All of the reviews I read before seeing the flick mentioned the gore. In fact, they gushed about the gore. I will say that there is certainly a lot of the red stuff sprayed about. It was enough to make an old couple walk out five minutes into the screening I was at. My cinematic bloodlust, however, is unquenchable; and by this grue aficionado’s standards, the gore was both awesome and awful. The Collection excels at showing us the aftermath of the violence. The bodies we see are nice and meaty. The eponymous collection is a sight to behold. The piles of nastiness in the basement and the results of the club massacre are impressive. The wounds we see that have been inflicted by knives and meathooks are pretty gnarly. There are some nice slit throats. The problem is, the actual moment of impact is almost always CGI…and we don’t even get a good look at that. One of the main things I loved about The Collector was the nasty practical effects. There are a few good ones in this flick, but the reliance on CGI for the big stuff is disappointing. I think the scope of the flick may have outpaced the budget in some ways, leading to all of the bad CGI splatter. Had they let the club combine chew through some physical heads instead of having actor’s craniums explode into a cloud of animated red mist, that opening sequence might have been one of the greatest cinematic bloodbaths of all time. I weep for what could have been.
Another thing that ruins the violent moments is the way they’re shot. For the majority of the movie, the cinematography and camera work is pretty damn good. Then, when it’s time to get violent, the camera starts shaking to the point that you can barely tell what’s going on. I’m beginning to get a little worried about this epidemic that seems to afflicting almost every cameraman from Hollywood on down to the indies. The condition, as far as I know, doesn’t have an official name, so I’m gonna dub it ASSSSS. That stands for Action Sequence Sudden Seizure Shaking Syndrome. Melvin Van Peebles would definitely approve of that anagram. If you don’t get that reference, you’re obviously a racist. Anyway, no one else seems to even notice ASSSSS, so I’ll make ASSSSS awareness my cause. Do none of the rest of you care about these poor cameramen? Is no one else concerned? Can’t we organize a telethon or something?
The acting is passable all around, with Emma Fitzpatrick being the real standout. She is the best “final girl” type heroine to come down the pike in some time. Far too often horror heroines are scared and helpless and then suddenly shift into killer badass mode on a dime. That’s what we call “sloppy character development” boys and girls. Thankfully, Miss Fitzpatrick melds the two and avoids the “out of nowhere” character shift. She gives us a believable performance where she is determined to get out of her dire situation and is willing to fight but always remembers to be scared shitless. It’s a very nuanced approach to the archetype, and I’d be willing to bet that she spent some time studying Jamie Lee’s Halloween performance in preparation for this role. Josh Stewart as Arkin and Randall Archer as The Collector deliver, but the rest of the cast portrays characters that are so one note or underdeveloped that it’s hard to really say much about their effectiveness in the roles.I think that the problem here is that Dunston and Melton decided bigger was better, when it was the intimacy of The Collector that made it work. The traps were things that you could make in your basement. That made it that much more chilling. There is some of that here, but mainly The Collector is making things that Jigsaw couldn’t even manage. The intense one-on-one cat and mouse struggle between Arkin and The Collector in the first movie is replaced here by a bunch of cookie cutter mercenaries going in Aliens style. If you’re gonna do that, why not get a bunch of washed up action stars to fill those roles and call it The Collectibles? I’d go see that. All in all, The Collection is definitely a step down from The Collector. Not surprising from the writing team that ran the Saw franchise into the ground. That being said, The Collection is definitely the grandest Guignol we’ve seen in American theaters in a while. If you can turn your brain off, there are some thrills to be had from some good gory set pieces, a classic leading lady, and that phenomenal set. There are also some sly giallo references for those paying attention, The Argento Hotel being the most obvious. Actually, go see it just for the hotel. It’s that cool. One severed thumb up. Nathan says check it out.