Making a good horror sequel is tough, so major kudos to The Collection for throwing out the rulebook and doing something defiantly different and, at times, totally bizarre with a threadbare premise established just three-years prior. The Collector was infamously envisaged as a prequel to Saw–indeed co-writers Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton collaborated on several Saw sequels–and the specter of Jigsaw looms large over it, particularly in the convoluted contraptions set up by the titular villain seemingly in record time. Where the 2009 movie truly overlaps with James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s seminal Se7en rip-off, however, is in the scalpel-sharp way in which it builds suspense, alongside the uncomfortably tight tension and shocking, all-out gore.
The Collector is quite dour and serious, and it looks pretty ugly too, as many early to mid-2000s horror movies unfortunately do. The movie’s secret weapon is Josh Stewart’s antihero Arkin, who treads a fine line between being a light-fingered criminal and a family man with a conscience who sacrifices his own safety to save a kid he barely knows. Wisely, Stewart returns for the sequel and the actor also has a co-producer credit, which may explain why he spends much of the movie in a tank top, showing off how buff he’s gotten in the intervening years. The Collection establishes that The Collector is a known serial killer in the world of the movie–set in a grubby unnamed city that was apparently Los Angeles and later Atlanta–but he keeps evading capture because the police are so useless, setting up some nice ACAB energy with the rogue investigator and his team of mercenaries who descend upon The Collector’s lair–led by an understandably reluctant Arkin.
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The sequel is slicker than the original, for better and worse, robbing what is essentially a gritty police procedural of much of what made The Collector so ruthlessly compelling. Thankfully, it kicks off with an instantly iconic sequence at a nightclub during which hundreds of revelers are mercilessly mowed down, while The Collector stands over them, basking in the bloodshed. The VFX have aged since 2012, but it’s still a brutal, brilliantly stupid, and wonderfully over the top way to re-introduce us to this world, begging the question: is The Collector just bored at this stage? The Collector is set almost entirely in a single location, adding to the claustrophobic feeling. Here, the scope is wider, although much of the action takes place in The Collector’s lair, the geography of which is left entirely unclear, so it feels like an inescapable labyrinth. Horror sequels must up the ante to keep us invested and The Collection really goes there, even briefly turning into a zombie shoot ‘em up at one stage. It doesn’t all work, but Stewart sells every moment, keeping things grounded by sheer force of will.
Likewise, including a protagonist with a hearing aid is still very progressive in horror, even by modern standards. Crucially, it’s not used as a plot point either, aside from when the earpiece gets caught in a bear trap. Emma Fitzpatrick (who impressed in this year’s Take Back the Night) is utterly believable as Elena, and she would be the Final Girl if it wasn’t for Arkin’s Final Boy. She’s resourceful, using her bra to pick a lock, knows not to trust a fellow prisoner who’s clearly unhinged, and never gives up the fight even when it seems hopeless. In fact, she’s much easier to root for than Arkin, especially given he abandoned her in the nightclub, which adds an interesting wrinkle to their dynamic that pays off satisfyingly in the final act. The Collection is filled to bursting point with gore and flying body parts (all courtesy of the legendary Gary J. Tunnicliffe, returning from The Collector) but the violence is less important than the human connection to Elena and, obviously, Arkin. Nobody else really gets much characterization beyond “the angry one” and “the woman” but it hardly matters–a scroll through Stewart’s recent Instagram comments reveals fans still see him predominantly as Arkin.
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The Collector, meanwhile, is very obviously portrayed by a different actor this time around. For one thing, he has hair now and seems far less weird, which is a shame because part of the villain’s appeal in the first movie was how inherently off his demeanor was, almost like a rat who’d emerged from the sewer. Randall Archer is a fine actor, and he commits fully to the madness, but the film loses something without Juan Fernández’s lick-lipping freakiness. The Collection builds believably to a final confrontation between Arkin and The Collector, which is well-choreographed, brutal, and further emphasizes just how impossible the killer is to defeat. Moreover, he’s so slippery that The Collector manages to evade capture even after being burned alive, leading to a hell of an ending that plays with our expectations of where Arkin could realistically have ended up (naturally, he can’t get over what’s happened to him). The long-gestating sequel, The Collected, appears to be on indefinite hold at this point but with the strength of this ending, it’s arguable whether we even need it. Capping this story by trapping The Collector in one of his own boxes is quite poetic, all things considered.
The Collection is incredibly tactile, very crunchy, and gruesome, albeit noticeably less so than its predecessor. The grossest moment might just be Arkin re-breaking his own arm to open the latch on a cage, which is a marked change from the first movie, which employs increasingly nasty gore to showcase how ruthless the titular villain is. The other major difference between these two movies is that, sadly, The Collection doesn’t feature any killer needle drops from Korn, Bauhaus, or anybody else. That final fight could easily have been soundtracked by a nu-metal banger like Linkin Park’s “One Step Closer”–that is, if Dracula 2000 hadn’t already ruined it for us–or even another Korn track to further establish the connection between Arkin and The Collector. There’s a sense that this was envisioned as a more refined story, but it’s also messier and more convoluted than the first movie. And yet, The Collector is still legitimately scary, and we believe that Arkin is terrified of risking even coming face to face with him again, let alone getting trapped inside his lair.
Much like Frank Grillo in The Purge, Stewart is the secret weapon of this mini franchise. He’s sympathetic but not a hero, and his character’s life consistently seems in danger of being snuffed out. The Collector himself, meanwhile, is mysterious enough to be creepy and enticing without going into overblown Jigsaw territory by spouting soliloquies about the importance of valuing your life (snore). He never speaks and we never see his face, even as he’s being chucked inside a box he created. In fact, although The Collection could arguably fall under the torture porn label, it’s relatively low-key when it comes to violence, with the filmmakers allowing the horrifying premise and overarching, dread-soaked atmosphere to do most of the work without overplaying their hand with the nastiness (which was an issue with the first movie). It’s the rare sequel that pares things back despite widening the scope and for that, The Collection will always be more interesting than the sum of its parts would suggest.