As I was watching The Collector, the first of two horror films directed by Marcus Dunstan and co-written by Patrick Melton, I ended up messaging the friend who had recommended the film, stating that if it was a theme park ride, I would happily buy a ticket. That’s the sort of energy conveyed in The Collector and The Collection through brisk runtimes.
The screenwriting is a work of economic storytelling via horror traps — one location, dozens of possibilities. Arkin (Josh Stewart), a working class thief in need of quick money, decides to rob his wealthy employer’s country home only to discover that a maniac is torturing the family and has booby-trapped the entire house to prevent anyone from escaping.
It’s one of many films spawned by the success of the Saw franchise, (Dunstan and Melton, who also wrote Saw 4-7, originally wrote this as a prequel), but it’s possibly the only film spawned from Saw to actually better its creator. Around each corner lies a new surprise, something waiting to jump out at you with each turn. It evokes the feeling of strapping in on a scary carnival ride, where thrills and screams await. There’s a feeling based on the script that one can figure this all out without anybody having to explain how it works — it’s simple math (trip the wire, a blade cuts your arm off), but it’s still fun to add up. I was yelling at my screen, squirming in my sofa. The film is a thrill-a-minute work of horror filmmaking that is both inventive and ingenious.
Gore has inherent entertainment value, but it’s always nice to see it used in service of plot — or at least working with it — and not just for the sake of it. The inventive quality of how these traps are set, and then employed, is hard to deny. Each booby trap is a plot mechanism of its own, setting in motion a new avenue of tension, a gory punchline to a joke. When you see a trap referenced, you know that setup is going to be delivered on. It’s Chekhov’s Gun. Dunstan makes the most out of the claustrophobic setting in the house, using hyperkinetic camerawork and prolonged takes to feature the booby-traps and overhead shots to heighten the close proximity between Arkin and The Collector at any given time. The Collector almost functions as a meta knowledge test for horror fans. How do you navigate through a horror plot when your villain has already taken into account every possible means of escape? He’s not just outsmarting you, he’s outthinking you in the creative and overdrawn ways of setting a trap.
The sequel takes the concept of a booby-trapped attraction and amplifies it to fill an entire hotel. If The Collector was a ride, then The Collection is a whole goddamn theme park. The sequel kicks off with Arkin escaping after being the bait in the latest killing by The Collector, wherein the daughter, Elena (Emma Fitzgerald), of a rich and powerful man is taken. After Arkin has recovered in the hospital, he gets hired by that man to lead a team of mercenaries into The Collector’s lair, the abandoned Hotel Argento (nice nod there), to rescue Elena. The Collection is the Aliens to The Collector’s Alien.
The Collection takes advantage of the opportunity to explore one of the best things about a slasher character: the mythology. The sequel opens up the world and mythology of The Collector to one that exists outside of the house from the first film. He’s regarded as a serial killer on the loose, and police are doing what they can to investigate his identity including the disappearance of Arkin from the first film. The mystery of his identity is still kept secret, Dunstan and Melton aren’t going to show all their cards here, but one does get a better idea of who or what he might be.
Just as its predecessor, The Collection milks all the tension it can out of its setting and the possibilities of varying death within. It does what a sequel should do. The kills and their setups are twice as nasty and inventive. Consider the absolutely insane opening scene where The Collector takes what are essentially industrial size lawnmowing blades and mows through an entire dancefloor at a nightclub. Right from the get go, it’s already topped the previous film. It pushes the formal and plot boundaries of the original; it’s got an action bent to it with the mercenaries and some throwdowns with The Collector, and Dunstan shoots it frenetically to keep it as tense as it is when you know a trap is about to blow. In The Collector, watching the film felt like a theme park ride because of what could be around the corner, but The Collection feels like a theme park because it’s about what could be in this room, hell, in the whole building.
The films and their concept of the villain just feel immediately iconic in similar ways that we regard Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. Dunstan knows this, framing his slasher in iconic stances — the best one when he opens the door to our heroes and poses menacingly with a rifle while his dogs advance. When The Collection ends, you’re ready for another round with this villain. After watching these two films, it’s no wonder that Dunstan and Melton were tapped for the latest film in the Halloween franchise, Halloween Returns, which will feature two teens sneaking into a prison to watch Michael Myers’ execution. Being a horror film, he escapes, as the filmmakers understand slasher iconography — how to make the most of one setting, and how to outthink their audience. Michael Myers is going to be iconic again.
His Blazing Automatics is a weekly column by Dylan Moses Griffin, who has been a cinephile for as long as he can remember. His favorite film is Taxi Driver, and he reads the works of Roger Ebert like it’s scripture. If you want, he will talk to you for 30 minutes about the chronologically weird/amazing Fast and Furious franchise.