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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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Horror sequel "The Collection" is in theaters now.
Horror sequel "The Collection" is in theaters now.

Cheap horror sequel "The Collection" far from vintage

In 2009, as the "Saw" series was petering out in popularity, another trap-based dose of torture porn hit theaters in the form of "The Collector." The story – a thief gets trapped in a house with a psychopathic killer and his "'Home Alone' without a moral compass" traps – wasn't particularly good or memorable, but it provided the kind of dumb, cheap thrills a horror junkie was no longer getting from the exceedingly self-serious and convoluted "Saw" films.

And, since it seems to be a law that all marginally successful (considering "The Collector"'s $7 million gross, a very loose definition of the word successful) horror films merit a sequel, we now have "The Collection." The results are even dumber than the original yet somewhat fascinating, mainly because it has the unwarranted freedom of a movie that clearly never should've been made, yet somehow did.

The debatably feature-length follow-up takes place a short time after the grisly events of the first film. The silent black masked murderer's gruesome M.O. – killing everyone in a house with absurdly elaborate evil traps and then taking a lone survivor back home in a claustrophobic box – has created a reign of terror over the city. An opening newscast even notes that most citizens are afraid to leave home.

That is, except for the town's wily teenagers, who go out to a mysterious rave and get violently axed from the film save for one kidnapped survivor (Emma Fitzpatrick). It's up to Arkin (Josh Stewart), the killer's lone escapee, to lead a renegade SWAT team into the Collector's trap-laden headquarters and save the girl – and themselves for that matter.

"The Collection" is shockingly padded, which makes the fact that it still comes in short (barely at 82 minutes) even more embarrassing. It has both an extended opening credit sequence, as well as an extended ending credit sequence. A predictable car accident scene that starts off the film bears no relevance to the rest of the movie. A tacked-on ending provides no thrills or even any sequel potential. Delete all that padding, and audiences are left with a movie barely an hour long. For $10 a ticket, that's hard to swallow.

The problem isn't the padding itself; it's just focused on the wrong stuff. Instead of spending several minutes with a dance club montage, why not spend that time developing a character?

Instead, we're left awkwardly writing characters and motivations on the fly. After one of his members gets taken, the SWAT team leader yells "I promised I would take care of her," which is breaking news for everyone watching. Other emotions – survivor's guilt, distrust – are also casually tossed in when convenient, but since director Marcus Dunstan and screenwriter Patrick Melton aren't interested in bringing these elements out in the performances and screenplay, it falls flat, and the characters become bland, memorable only for the ways they are brutally dispatched from the film.

Oh, and they certainly are brutally eliminated. The opening nightclub massacre is a horrid orgy of spinning blades, crushed partygoers and bloody splatter. "The Collection" is certainly violent, but the violence doesn't equal scares or even tension. In fact, in most cases, it inspires giggles since the Collector's traps are so preposterously precise and intricate. The killer should turn out to be Rube Goldberg.

That's when the movie isn't just being silly. At one point, it's revealed that the Collector has a zombie army, effectively murdering any pretense of reality. Later on, the Collector pulls out a machine gun. Horror, in my opinion at least, is best served by subtle, dread-filled suspense; a machine gun is the opposite of subtle.

Yet even despite itself, "The Collection" almost manages to entertain, mostly due to its nonsensical absurdity. It's filmed with a surprising amount of color, a refreshing change from most horror films' monotonous browns and greys. A rare gore-free sequence involving a glitchy light bulb is surprisingly well crafted as well. For the most part, though, the film's lunacy, not its scares or skill, is what keeps the audience interested.

Sometimes, blood-soaked lunacy can work (my beloved "Piranha 3D"), but "The Collection" feels like it's throwing things at the audience in desperation. It's a movie that exists but isn't quite sure why. After witnessing its mesmerizingly sloppy 82 minutes, I'm not quite sure either.

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