WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Sleepy-eyed Arkin is a petty thief who uses his legit job as a day-laborer for a remodeling company to case potential targets. Desperate to raise the cash necessary to settle a debt with his ex-wife who herself is in deep with some nasty loansharks he goes for one last score by raiding the bucolic home of his most recent employer a wealthy family that’s just left town on vacation.
But when he arrives at the house to do the job Arkin quickly realizes that the family never left; they became captives of Jigsaw — errr the Collector — a masked maniac who’s gone a step beyond the standard torture routine by rigging the entire house with a series of elaborate booby traps to ensure that anyone attempting to escape is met with an excruciating end. It’s that latter detail that helps convince Arkin to stay and try to put a stop to the Collector’s evil ambitions.
WHO’S IN IT?
In the grand low-budget horror tradition The Collector's cast is stocked with a group of attractive little-known modestly talented actors working presumably for scale led by Josh Stewart (episodes of CSI: Miami and Criminal Minds) Andrea Roth (Rescue Me one episode of Lost) Madeline Zima (Californication an episode of Grey’s Anatomy) Daniella Alonso (one episode each on CSI Knight Rider and Without a Trace) and ... honestly does it really matter who the rest of the cast members are? Most of them are drenched in blood and virtually unrecognizable for the most part anyway.
Could there be a less appealing tagline to a movie than “from the writers of Saw IV V and VI?” The phrase essentially means if we’re lucky The Collector has a chance at being just as lame and played-out as those flicks have become. Huzzah!
As you might expect from the pedigree of its filmmakers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton The Collector’s plot involves a sadistic madman subjecting assorted victims to various grisly surprisingly imaginative forms of torture. But unlike the latter Saw flicks The Collector manages to introduce some new elements that add a solid degree of suspense those films have increasingly lacked. In short it’s actually scary — in the beginning at least.
The acting not surprisingly ranges from average to distractingly poor. But that’s par for the course for films of this ilk. What’s most unfortunate about The Collector is that it gradually dispenses with the horror and substitutes torture in its place its tone transitioning disappointingly from frightening to repulsive during the second act. Then as if to emphasize the change the final third of the film is littered with one gruesome money shot after another. There’s nary a sensitive body part that doesn’t get punctured torn sliced or straight-up lopped off by the closing credits.
When Arkin first enters the house director Marcus Dunstan pieces together a gripping cat-and-mouse chase as the Collector slowly stalks his uninvited guest. As the would-be thief encounters one disturbing trap after another in his vain effort to escape Dunstan raises the tension to a fever pitch by blending tried-and-true horror devices (the creaky stairwell et al.) with expert timing and camera work.
The Collector is like the MacGyver of horror villains jury-rigging his adopted lair with enough ghastly booby traps — all made with common household items no less — to impress the Viet Cong. The place is like Disneyland for murdurous sociopaths.
Taylor Peters (Matthew Broderick) is a television writer-producer stuck on a dog of a sitcom and not happy about the direction of his life. After finally licking his recreational drug and drinking habits his marriage to Lorraine (Maura Tierney) is on the rocks due to his inability to quit his compulsive gambling tendencies especially at the track. When the family learns that 20 year-old niece Amanda (Brittany Snow) is living in Vegas and working as a prostitute he finds the perfect excuse to make things right with the missus. So he drives to Vegas with the intention of finding Amanda and forcing her to come back to L.A. and enroll in a rehab program in Malibu. Sounds like a good plan but the temptations of Vegas prove too much for Taylor as he finds himself up to his neck in quicksand taking on his errant niece her loser boyfriend Greg (Peter Facinelli) the low-rent criminals she “hooks” for and the ever-present casinos beckoning him and his dwindling bank account. If Finding Amanda is any indication Broderick’s film career is more in need of resurrection than even the character he plays here. This is the kind of low-brow material that would make a bland TV movie if it weren’t jacked up to “R” rating levels by intentionally sleazy dialogue and dumb-ass characters. Broderick such a fine actor is defeated by a script that makes no use of his considerable comedic talents. This moronic tale sticks Broderick’s character in unlikely situations and broad circumstances that make it hard to empathize with a guy who just can’t help himself--or anyone else around him. Snow (Hairspray) is a sprightly fun actress but Amanda is beyond annoying making her uncle’s efforts to save her from herself ring false. Unfortunately there is zero chemistry between the leads you just never believe for a moment these two have any past family history. Tierney whines through the standard wife role playing most of her scenes on the other end of a phone line. Steve Coogan turns up as a casino enabler friend of Taylors who does him no favors when his “habit” starts careening out of control again. Facinelli as Amanda’s dead-end boyfriend is such a ridiculous caricature you have to wonder why she is with him in the first place. Writer/director Peter Tolan (TV’s Rescue Me) has an extensive resume in both TV and film so an inside showbiz tale about the downward slide of a TV writer would seem to be a snap. After all the set up is ripe for wit and a satirical edge only an insider like Tolan can bring but his script just goes nowhere and the characters he has created don’t seem to be coming from a real place. Perhaps he was just too close to the material to see how little of it works in any coherent way. This type of (attempted ) character comedy is tough to pull off by the most talented of filmmakers but Tolan sadly gives his cast nothing to hang on to basically letting them all twist in the wind. The mediocre dialogue is not helped by Tolan’s own lifeless direction. There is no pizzazz and Vegas has never looked more drab or unexciting than it does here. Instead of Finding Amanda better to look for something else to see.
The thing is Pulse actually has a pretty compelling premise. From the furtive mind of co-writer Wes Craven it shows how our society’s utter reliance on broadband and telecom technology has come back to bite us in the ass. A college student trying to hack into a system inadvertently releases some massive malevolent virus from beyond that infects anyone with a computer cell phone PDA you name it. In other words there’s a whole lotta crack in that Crackberry now. Unfortunately Craven or whoever else tinkered with Pulse has to also adhere to the movie horror genre throwing in the same old scare tactics as we watch pretty young things Mattie (Kristen Bell) and Dexter (Ian Somerhalder) run around trying to stop the bad pasty-white ghosts before they too are infected. The one saving grace is the ending doesn’t cope out. Perky and blonde Bell (of TV’s Veronica Mars fame) is highly capable of convincing us she’s freaked out. As Mattie she witnesses her boyfriend killing himself watches all her friends turn into black ash; we certainly feel her pain. But there’s a determination there too and somehow you know she going to outsmart those nasty spirits--or at least outrun them. Her cohort Somerhalder--best known to Lost fans as Boone the show’s first major casualty--is right there with her every step of the way. It’s comforting actually to put hip young stars in horror movies because it makes it easier to root for their survival. First-time director Jim Sonzero--probably a little freaked himself making a big-budget movie AND dealing with the Weinstein brothers (who produced Pulse)--looks like he watched movies like The Ring and Dark Water over and over. Granted Pulse is also based on a Japanese horror film Kairo so it makes sense everything is so cold and bleak with rundown filthy apartments and lots of concrete. Creepy movies couldn’t be nearly as effective in a brightly lit environ I suppose. What’s interesting however is how some of the masters of horror of our generation are thinking alike. Craven isn’t alone in his telecom fears. Stephen King has also come out with a new novel called Cell which basically addresses the same issue but in a far more twisted way god bless him. In fact King’s end-of-the-world story starts with what he calls “The Pulse ” which is sent via cell phones and makes everyone who has one go crazy. Yep Craven and King are definitely on the same wavelength. Now that’s a scary place to be.