When I first heard about The Collector after reading a review from Freddy in Space, my expectations were lackluster at best. A fan of the S...

The Collector; or, Saw the Home Game!

When I first heard about The Collector after reading a review from Freddy in Space, my expectations were lackluster at best. A fan of the Saw series, I had been disappointed with the declining quality of its sequels. Coming from the writers of the Saw sequels, I figured The Collector would be like that dreaded fruitcake you receive every Christmas only to repackage it and give it to your cousin. I was wrong. I absolutely loved this film. Though there are definite strains of the Saw series present (i.e. the traps) The Collector avoids the common pitfalls of its predecessor to produce an unsettling and moody horror flick.

The film follows the progress of Arkin, a handyman working to make things better for his daughter and a wife who is in debt to some loan sharks. There’s one big problem: the honest money he makes working on some rich guy’s house won’t pay the bill. So what does he do? He decides the rip the guy off and steal a precious diamond he knows is locked away in the house safe. Arkin breaks into the joint only to discover that he isn’t alone and he must face the sinister Collector and evade his many traps to survive.

The film is aggressive from the very start with the opening credits. Images of insects, bugs and the scientific equipment used to codify and catalogue them, all flash before the viewer in all their overexposed glory. This lightshow of blood red, putrid green and jaundiced yellow images assaults the senses along with a pounding soundtrack that prepares us for the invasion of the film into our living rooms and our psyche.

The Collector really ups the ante from the Saw films by presenting us with an evil antagonist we know little or nothing about. He is not a proselyting super-villain like Jigsaw who feels the need to beat his motives like a dead horse. “Be thankful for your lives” Okay, we got it, thanks. All we know about this guy is that he collects people, but there is no explanation of why. Is he storing them in giant mason jars for later study? Is he making a man suit out of their skin? We have no idea! The not knowing is what really did it for me. We also never see his face, though Arkin does unmask him, and he never speaks a word. The result is that he becomes less of a human being and more of a force of nature intent on collecting his next big prize.

Aside from its aesthetic merits, the Collector also carries a lot of thematic weight. The motif of insects is present throughout the film, not just in the opening credits. Arkin, the handyman turned thief/hero is associated with bugs throughout. As he sits down to tea with the daughter of his employer, he notices that a deadly spider lurks on the little girl’s teacup, and later he encounters a hive of wasps. This parallel between Arkin and bugs foreshadows his own fate as one of the Collector’s specimens. Bugs are important in this film as a symbol of the Collector’s victims and his ultimate power over them. The Collector himself releases a sinister looking spider, which makes his cover as an exterminator both laughable and terrifying as he pursues his victims with single-minded purpose.

There is also a really effective doppelganger relationship going on between the Collector and Arkin. There are definite parallels to their movements. When Arkin first enters the house we see a tight shot of his shoes at the door. This same shot is repeated when the Collector enters the home while Arkin is upstairs trying to crack the safe. There are also the really cool tracking shots from above and we watch in utter terror as Arkin evades the Collector by inches, always just one step ahead. The unity of the two characters is best expressed when Arkin starts at his masked reflection in the hallway mirror. Here he is simultaneously savior and villain as he has come to the house to rob the family, but in the end does his best to save them.

But Arkin’s new role as hero is frustrated by the unwillingness of those he would save. They are like frightened cattle, bolting at the slightest provocation and getting themselves killed in the process. This really contributes to a sense of helplessness on the audience’s part that matches the impotency of the protagonist as he constantly tries to do the right thing despite the horrible consequences.

Ultimately, The Collector arouses a moral dilemma. Should Arkin cut and run? Or should he do the right thing and save the family? Though Arkin ultimately pursues the latter, the film’s alternative ending points to this essential split. I won’t give too much away for those who have yet to see The Collector, but let’s just say it takes the film in a whole other direction.

It’s hard to figure out what I think The Collector is saying as a film. There is definitely the image of the home and the everyday objects within it turned sinister (i.e. spikes on the stairs or the bear traps in the dining room) which could connect to fears of homeland invasion and terror post 9/11 in films like The Strangers. But whatever it’s trying to say, The Collector really impressed me in the process and gives me hope for the torture porn sub-genre of horror.

1 comment:

  1. Good review, the subtext of insects was interesting. Insects feed on decay, and the people in the film are all decaying. Unhappy marriages, daughters sneaking out to rebel against disfunction, everyone is lieying to everyone. The only fault was making the collector an invincible super villain. That took the biscuit, he was shot, had about ten knives stabbed in to him, yet seems to have no effect on him.