Along with his screenwriting partner Patrick Melton, Marcus Dunstan has become something of an expert in mechanized violence, having co-written Saw IV, Saw V, the upcoming Saw VI, and most likely the in-development-now Saw VII. (Project Greenlight fans will also remember Melton and Dunstan turning up on season three as the cub screenwriters of Feast, for which they also penned two sequels.) For his directorial debut, The Collector, Dunstan streamlines the Saw concept slightly by silencing the killer and focusing more intently on a house that’s been converted into a jury-rigged deathtrap. That means erasing the (admittedly thin) patina of morality that runs through the Saw franchise and finding cool new ways to torture and kill characters just for the fun of it. And even on that front, The Collector seems to pilfer most of its ideas from Bait & Tackle magazine.
The early scenes promise a potentially novel cross between heist and extreme horror, but those hopes are quickly dashed. Josh Stewart stars as an ex-con desperate to scrape together some money to keep a loan shark from descending on his family. After doing some carpentry for a rich jewelry broker (Michael Reilly Burke) in the sticks, Stewart decides to return to the place later that evening and put his safecracking skills to good use. But soon after breaking into the house, he discovers that all the exits have been sealed off and the entire place is lined with grisly booby-traps triggered by trip-wires. (Spiders and their webs are shown repeatedly, for those who missed the visual metaphor the first time.)
Though Dunstan swaths the action in the dingy filtered yellows of the Saw movies—and worse, adds “whoosh” noises to the soundtrack whenever an object snaps into focus—he does have some directorial flair. If not for the oppressive music effects, Stewart’s wordless break-in to this house of horrors could be an homage to Rififi, and Dunstan stages one tense sequence to the insistent bass of Bauhaus’ “Bela Lugosi’s Dead.” Yet The Collector can only hold back the floodwaters of gimmickry and pointlessness for so long, as the broker and his family get tortured and Stewart dodges bear traps, flying knives, acid, and everything else the masked tormentor throws at him. The moral? If you’re going to steal to feed your starving family, don’t steal anything more ambitious than bread.