Sometimes, things are not as they seem.
Take Arkin, for instance. At first glance, the nondescript home-security contractor looks the part. Gruff attitude? Check. An omnipresent pack of smokes? Check. A tired old pickup truck? Check.
But it's all a cover for Arkin's real "profession": Casing rich people's homes from the inside out in order to rob them. His latest intended target: the Chase family. The father, Michael, is a jewelry broker. And with the Chases—wife Victoria, teen daughter Jill and elementary-age Hannah—about to leave town on vacation, Arkin is finalizing his plans to steal a huge gemstone hidden in the family's safe.
And so Arkin shows up at the house (at night, of course, amid a thunderstorm), dons his ski mask and prepares to go to work.
Business as usual.
Except for the fact that another masked interloper has gotten to the Chase house first. And his sadistic intentions go far beyond merely pilfering a jewel.
Enter the titular Collector, who, we learn, loves spiders and hates humans. Hence his preference for setting deadly traps—traps that have already snared poor Michael and Victoria, Arkin discovers.
Given his knowledge of the Chase residence, Arkin might just be able to escape the Collector's house of horrors with most of his body parts intact.
But there's just one problem: Little Hannah is still hiding somewhere inside.
Despite being criminally minded, Arkin has strong paternal instincts. Early on, he has a run-in with his ex-wife (not positive), who presses him to make good on his delinquent alimony payments. There's no love lost between them, but Arkin obviously adores his daughter, Cindy (for whom he's bought a stuffed teddy bear). He promises to get his wife the money she needs by midnight in order to make sure her debts to a shady loan shark don't put her and Cindy in danger.
Arkin's affection for his daughter explains why he treats Hannah kindly while working in the Chase house. And those actions foreshadow the great lengths Arkin will go to save the little girl from the Collector. Indeed, Arkin escapes the well-secured house at one point, but sees Hannah pleading for help through a boarded-up window. Arkin reenters the house to try to rescue her. Later, Arkin verbally taunts the Collector in an effort to lead him away from Hannah's location (an act for which Arkin pays dearly).
About halfway through the Chase family's ordeal, Jill (who's been absent) shows up at the end of a date with her boyfriend. And it's no surprise given the horror genre's conventions to learn they've got sex on their minds. After making out in the car, they stumble, intertwined, into the house's entryway. (The Collector has conveniently unlocked the four locks on the door for them.) Several camera shots subsequently show the guy kissing Jill's exposed breasts—and show the Collector creepily watching. After the boyfriend's predictably bloody exit seconds later, the Collector restrains Jill's arms and neck with barbed wire and seems intent on sexually assaulting her when Arkin distracts him.
Arkin works for a criminal kingpin who owns a strip club. Scenes in the club show several topless dancers. The camera focuses briefly on a couple of them as they perform.
Movies in the torture-porn genre exist only to imagine new, indescribably bad things for the bad guy to do to the bodies of those unfortunate enough to fall into his clutches. So, with the exception of Hannah, who escapes physically (if not psychologically) unscathed, everyone else has some extraordinarily painful things happen to them.
A discreet litany: Knives, nails, hammers, razors, lawn shears, pliers, straight pins, fishhooks, barbed wire, bear traps, fire, acid, a cigarette lighter, giant insects, electricity and a truly mean German shepherd all do bloody corporeal damage to the Collector's victims (most of whom are bound and unable to resist him). A cat's close encounter with a guillotine of sorts doesn't go well, nor does the aforementioned dog's contact with a flaming bucket. With the (merciful) exception of sexual organs, virtually every body part you can think of—including fingers, internal organs, eyelids, necks, teeth and eardrums—get sliced, impaled, broken, crushed, removed, stabbed or stitched.
Paling in comparison are fistfights and shotgun blasts.
Crude or Profane Language
About a dozen f-words and four or five s-words. We hear one misuse of Jesus' name and about 10 of God's name (which is once combined with "d--n"). Other vulgarities or slurs, used two or three times each, include "b--ch," "h---" and "f-ggot."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Arkin smokes in several early scenes. Once, Jill asks if she can have a drag. Arkin initially tells her he doesn't want to contribute to her delinquency, then relents and lets her take a few puffs. Patrons at the strip club drink alcohol. A couple returns home laughing, stumbling and apparently tipsy. Victoria sticks a needle into her forehead, presumably a self-administered Botox injection.
Other Negative Elements
We never learn much about the Collector's motivations. Arkin frees—briefly—a bloody man trapped in the murderer's "collecting box" who informs him that the Collector kidnaps a few victims and fiendishly finishes off the rest.
Jill is not only rebellious, she's proud of how her acting out drives her parents practically over the edge, something that's apparent when she picks a fight with her mom about not wanting to go on vacation with the rest of the family.
With The Collector, what we have is a good news/bad news situation.
But none of the good news has anything at all to do with the actual film. The good news is that at the screening I attended, there were quite a few empty seats—despite the fact that promotional material for the movie blares, "From the writers of Saw IV, V & VI." Perhaps—I hope—the less-than-full theater was an indicator that this tired genre is running its demented course.
Also in the good news category: Six or eight people got up and left before the film finished. (Oddly, though, they simultaneously did so when something really nasty happened to a cat, not to the humans.)
The bad news, well, it's fairly obvious, I think. Seemingly oblivious to the less-than-full theaters, Hollywood continues to churn out these blood-drenched Saw-style savageries—despite the fact that everyone in the audience already knows exactly what's going to happen. There's no suspense here. There's only the indulgence of macabre curiosity as we wait to see just how bad—or how "creative"—the carnage is going to be this time around.
Eager to oblige by valiantly attempting to top everything else already out there, the filmmakers had to send this film to the Motion Picture Association of America four times just to get the rating backed down from an NC-17 to an R. "I think we went too far," said writer/director Marcus Dunstan. "The MPAA brought us back to a point where it maintains all of the impact, and now it lands even more real. The gore we ended up cutting out only amounted to about seven seconds. But it was frames here and there that really went beyond the realm of good taste."
Does that mean, Mr. Dunstan, that piles of entrails on the floor and a woman getting her mouth sewn shut fall within "the realm of good taste"?
MTV film reviewer Kurt Loder wrote, "To say that The Collector is a torture-porn movie of a particularly vile and hateful sort is already to waste more words than the picture merits."
It seems, then, that I've already said too much.