Review: 'The Collection' starring Josh Stewart and Emma Fitzpatrick

The Collection picks up not long after 2009's surprisingly effective horror The Collector, but within a few minutes it becomes clear that they couldn't be more different. Initially designed to be a sort of Saw prequel from franchise scribes Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, The Collector was dark and moody, extremely gory in the torture porn mold. But unlike Saw it had a much tighter focus, and no designs on turning its masked  killer into a moralizing anti-hero for justice.

The Collection ups the horror ante to ridiculous and disturbing levels, while also seeing the series take a decided shift in tone. While still ominous and definitely foreboding, there's also more of a willingness to get a little bit silly and add more of an action-thriller vibe into the mix. It makes for a more efficient, unpredictable experience, and puts it well ahead of where Saw was at this same stage. To be perfectly honest, the film had sold me right from the very beginning, during a highly imaginative, superbly designed slaughter involving a nightclub full of dancing youngsters and a gigantic thresher. For some it may be all the clue they need that this isn't the film for them, but fans of the genre will be sucked in immediately by the spectacle and the wanton violence on display as the crowd is reduced to geysers of blood and body parts. Only one survives the attack, a rich man's daughter named Elena(the luminous Emma Fitzpatrick), whose presence allows for Arkin(Josh Stewart), the last film's "hero" to escape the Collector's clutches. But now Elena is in his grasp, spirited away to his secluded murder world, a maze of elaborate engines of death, with traps designed to kill and maim, and macabre trophies of his many past victims.

It's certainly a stark evolution for the character, and when we see him unleashing an army of drugged out zombies on Arkin and a team of mercenaries hired to save Elena, the inclination is to think they've gone a little overboard. But it works within the context of this film, and as long as Dunstan and Melton don't delve too deep into how he's able to accomplish the many things he does, then it can continue to work for subsequent sequels. Keep the Collector baggage-free, and without confusing us with a complicated backstory. Taking an approach similar to other "invasion"-style films like Aliens, the bulk of the story involves Arkin and the mercs infiltrating the Collector's home, and mostly getting picked off one-by-one in rather inventive ways. Unlike the previous film, Dunstan doesn't seem as interested in scares so much as making you cringe, and he pulls a number of tricks out of his bag in order to do just that. Some, like a room brimming with bloody and dismembered body parts, are almost too disgusting to look at without revisiting your dinner. But the classics are still the most terrifying, like a nest of spiders crawling over bare skin.

The film is hurt by Stewart's sleepy and dull performance as Arkin. He's simply not a leading man capable of making us care about his character for the long term, which is a shame because Arkin is actually quite a compelling character. His past as a criminal still informs much of what he does, and we see from time-to-time that he's capable of doing some nasty things to save his own skin. From the moment she appears on screen, Emma Fitzpatrick is clearly the one who is demanding of our fullest attention. As Elena, she gives what could have been just another thankless damsel role a real strength, and with her beauty and wits it's possible the franchise coalesces around her character more than Arkin. She could be a star in the making, and so it's up to Dunstan to keep this promising horror franchise on the right track. Different enough to lure in newcomers while remaining loyal to its fans, The Collection shows a great flair for the wicked and morbid.