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Arkin (Josh Stewart) is a thief whose heist goes terribly wrong.

The Collector

  • Directed by Marcus Dunstan
  • Written by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton
  • Starring Josh Stewart
  • Classification: 18A

The horror film The Collector falls into a genre which has been dubbed "torture porn." Spawned by movies such as the Hostel and Saw series, it emphasizes confinement, traps and mutilation.

The phrase "torture porn," coined by New York magazine critic David Edelstein, is problematic. Everything from Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ to the French rape revenge fantasy Baise-moi has earned the label. As well, the term seems a little hard on something as innocuous as pornography. Finally, sadism as entertainment is hardly new in pulp fiction. The James Bond movies, for example, usually involved at least one scene of needlessly elaborate torture. Psycho , The Exorcist and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were all gross and perverted, and yet they are now widely regarded as film classics.

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If anything, these new horror movies owe a debt to first-person computer games, which put characters through a sequence of puzzles or predicaments.

The plot of The Collector has no connection with the John Fowles's novel or its sixties film adaptation with Terence Stamp and Samantha Eggar. Instead, it was created by the writers of the last three Saw movies, the most lucrative horror franchise of all time. (At one time, the script was bandied about as a possible prequel to the Saw series.)

There's no real attempt at plausibility or narrative logic here, though first-time director Marcus Dunstan has a knack for creating a claustrophobic atmosphere, using natural light and an ominous soundtrack. The protagonist is also moderately original, a sad, good-natured cat burglar named Arkin (a capable Josh Stewart) - a name that is presumably a tribute to Alan Arkin's role in the 1967 thriller Wait Until Dark .

Arkin's divorced wife has fallen into trouble with loan sharks, and he is forced to steal a big uncut ruby from a safe in the home of the Chase family, for whom he has been working on a construction crew. Arkin isn't happy about what he is about to do. He likes the Chases, and he has a daughter about the same age as their youngest.

After the Chases announce they are going away on a trip, Arkin breaks into their mansion at night to rob their safe. But it turns out they never left home. A masked killer has taken over their house and he is systematically torturing the husband and wife; the teenage daughter has yet to return home, and a younger daughter is hiding. The tormentor has also booby-trapped the entire house with an elaborate series of devices that either maim or kill.

Arkin's dilemma is to try to get out before losing too many body parts, and also, if possible, to save the little girl. But watching The Collector becomes an experience not so much of dread as big virtual ouches: Ouch to having your lips sewn shut or feet bathed in acid; double ouch to getting hung up by fish-hooks or falling into the living room filled with bear traps.

One criticism of the torture-porn genre is that it's simply gore without metaphor, though it seems fairly clear that the model of these films is that of a game of chance. The villain is the game creator, and he has invented a competition for which the player needs a rare combination of luck and skill to survive.

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Surely that's the reason why one of the three men who plays the villain is the film's co-writer, Patrick Melton. With a sequel already in the works, Melton will soon be collecting bundles at the bank.

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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