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Wednesday
Sep022009

The Final Destination, 2009

I'll Be the King of Wishful Thinking

I knew The Final Destination would be an odd movie from the trailer:

“We’ve saved the best for…3D!”

Now, horror franchises have a fine tradition of trying to keep audiences awake by pumping up their third installments with 3D effects, but this is the fourth film. I thought that maybe New Line was trying to forget FD3, as have I—unsuccessfully, thanks to HBO. But, no, this is deliberate, and I would happily write it off as an utter failure had it not been so damned entertaining.

Please don’t take that as an endorsement of quality. My God, there are so many problems with this picture it’s as if the projectionist was screening the first week’s dailies. I’m talking about the fact that for 82 minutes, I laughed consistently and had the higher-functioning areas of my mind tickled more than once. I dare say that The Final Destination contains a workable thriller somewhere beneath the unconvincing CG gore and cynical script beats.

Anyone who’s seen Final Destination 3 knows that the script was, quite literally, a Xerox of the original film that had been modified only in the sense that all references to “airplane crash” were replaced with “roller coaster crash”. Even the character archetypes’ dialogue was the same. This holds true for The Final Destination, and our story begins with our four main characters, A, B, C, and D attending a NASCAR-style event. A has a vivid premonition of a car crash that sets off a violent chain reaction, which ends up killing him, his friends, and most everyone else in the venue. He wakes up from this daydream, freaks out, and ushers his friends outside, along with Neo-Nazi, MILF, Redneck Mechanic, and Black Security Guard (lest you think I’m being overly crude in these generalities, the end credits actually list actress Krista Allen as “MILF/Samantha”). The racetrack explodes in a firestorm of carnage, and everyone is—more or less—happy to be alive. This all happens within the first eight minutes or so, and it’s nice to see the fourth film break the cycle of aping the original by removing all elements of character and suspense.

A sees more premonitions, these geared specifically to the eventual demise of the other survivors; sure enough, they each die in the order that they should have at the track. The means of execution are invariably complex confluences of events that set in motion gruesome death traps—someone knocks over a bottle, which trips a switch, which turns on a fan, that yadda, yadda, yadda…man gets impaled by a propane tank and his torso is forced through a fence, creating perfect diamond-cut chunks of meat. The kills are unspectacular, especially one that was shamelessly ripped off from Chuck Palahniuk’s short story “Guts”. What sets this movie apart, however, is its frequent use of red herrings: on a number or occasions, what you think you’re seeing isn’t what you think it will turn out to be (and that includes some of the trailer’s money shots). This brings me to the end of the plot synopsis; barely the middle of the story, I know, but do you really need me to go any further?

I’d like to focus instead on the key things that make this movie amazing—not worthwhile, remember, but a hoot nonetheless. First, it’s the flattest-looking 3D movie I’ve ever seen. Forget that all of the great dimensional effects are wasted on cheap nails-flying-at-the-audience gags; I’m talking about the regular scenes, the non-gotcha stuff. Cinematographer Glen MacPherson ruins every scene by giving every person, set, and object of interest the exact same importance—and when everything’s important, nothing’s important. There’s no foreground or background to the movie, only copious amounts of gloss—imagine a Dilbert comic filmed as a Mentos commercial and you’re halfway there; I’m tempted to call this an “MTV” look, but it’s closer to a Barbara Walters Special. It sounds like a minor complaint, but I was constantly distracted by how bland everything looked—and it’s only half fair to blame the cast.

The Final Destination also wins the “Best Weightless Rubble” award, mostly for the racetrack disaster that opens the movie. It’s so painfully obvious that no practical effects people were allowed near the set; all the kills in this thing are digitally created non-events that must have sounded great on paper (“couple cut in half by flying car debris!” “Girl flattened by airborne engine!”), but the combination of lousy camerawork, CG, and flimsy acting didn’t amount to anything. Even several minutes of concrete pillars shattering and crushing people fail to evoke anything other than memories of Roadrunner cartoons.

Speaking of cartoons, did someone mistakenly tell all of the actors that they were filming Scary Movie 5? I swear, every line of dialogue was delivered with either dinner-theatre earnestness or Zoloft-stupor ennui. The Final Destination plays out like a MAD TV parody of Final Destination 3, with characters putting things together way too quickly or emoting on all the wrong beats. At one point, MILF/Samantha tells her two bratty kids, “I’m gonna keep my EYE on you!” Right before she gets a bullet-strength pebble to the EYE. The first three Final Destination films gave us at least one good or semi-accomplished actor apiece, from Ali Larter to A.J. Cook to Mary Elizabeth Winstead. The best this picture can offer is a former Cinemax-After-Dark icon (Allen) and a never-was MTV host (Nick Zano, who plays C).

The thing that fascinated me most about FD43D was its subtle (?) racism. If you think that’s a hefty charge, let me pose this question: What do you call it when the only characters of color in a major motion picture are a black homeless man, a black construction worker with two lines of dialogue, a black theatre usher with one line of dialogue and a black NASCAR security guard who ends up getting killed (twice)?

On second thought, there is another ethnic character that shows up in a hospital scene toward the end of the movie: a guy named “Chinese Orderly”.

Lacking any discriminatory memos on studio letterhead, I’m willing to give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt here and just assume they’re fans of really old movies. *

Earlier, I hinted at some moments of mental stimulation in the movie. For all its faults, I must give the creative team credit for the little touches—sight gags, really—scattered throughout. While some are real eye-rollers (“Destiny Towing Company”), others are nifty callbacks to the original film (a security camera displays the number 180, the doomed airplane’s flight number). There was on opportunity, though, that was painfully left dangling: wouldn’t it be cool if one of the survivors murdered one of the other survivors? They would act as the agent of death, rather than death having to set up another ridiculous Rube Goldberg scenario. This is suggested in a scene between Neo-Nazi and Black Security Guard, but I guess one doesn’t attend these movies for fully formed ideas.

This isn’t a very good movie, but it’s a worthwhile experience, especially if you plan to see it with friends. The Final Destination is a great end-of-summer, end-of-franchise picture full of laughs and mediocrity, the rare sort of movie that makes you proud to pay full price for the privilege of wasting time on over-produced, fourth-generation trash.

* For those who’ve seen the movie, you may argue that the dragging death of the Neo-Nazi was an empowerment kill, a turning of the tables between two cultural stereotypes. While it did make me giggle a bit, I contend that the aforementioned argument holds more sway than this minute-long scene.

Saturday
Aug292009

Halloween 2 (2009)

Shape, Shifter

Director Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2 is a slasher film that hates slasher films, or at least hates the audiences that attend them. It is one of the ugliest movies I’ve seen; yet, for fans of cinema, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Those expecting easy exploitation or a cheap remake of a sequel may be disappointed by the writer/director’s giant “Fuck you” to teenyboppers and sick dementoids who get off on seeing people butchered on-screen. I was certainly challenged by the picture, and emerged from the theatre feeling as if I’d just been treated to art; art that made me want to take a shower and repent my sins.
Zombie’s 2007 re-imagining of Halloween was half Michael Myers back-story, half ill-conceived remake of John Carpenter’s 1978 classic—both infused with spook-rock hillbilly sensibilities. He certainly put his stamp on the material, giving Myers—a young, soulless psychopath who murders most of his family and spends his remaining years in a mental institution—a strong relationship with his attending psychiatrist, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcom McDowell). This portion of the movie worked well, particularly in the Director’s Cut, and was punctuated by frequent visits from Michaels’ mother (Sheri Moon Zombie); the two adults played the material with as much reality as they could, striving to counsel and nurture a cute little blonde boy that audience members know will grow up to become the Devil in a William Shatner mask. The fatal mistake of the first film was that shaky last half—when Michael, now an adult, escapes the asylum and returns to Haddonfield, Illinois to find his long-lost sister, Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), and eviscerate anyone who crosses his path. These sequences felt like one, long studio exec “note”, an attempt to reign in Zombie’s vision in order to build a franchise. The heart and interest gushed out of the picture like a severed carotid artery.

Halloween 2 begins in the same way as the 1981 sequel, with the bloody aftermath of Myers’ rampage being mopped up and Laurie Strode being treated at a hospital. Thankfully, the new movie spends little time here and diverges into its own territory; in many ways it eschews the supernatural themes of the older films in favor of realism—even if it is only movie realism at times—which is what makes the rest of the picture so jarring. After a twenty-minute prologue, we get the “One Year Later” title card, and catch up with Laurie, now orphaned and living with best friend and fellow victim, Annie (Danielle Harris)—whose dad is Haddonfield’s sheriff. Laurie, once a mousy high school student, is now a party girl haunted by nightmares; Annie, the more outgoing girl in the first movie, clings to quiet and security after her near-death encounter with Michael Myers a year earlier. This is not new ground for horror movies, and the key to Halloween 2’s success is the fact that the survivors’ performances are taken seriously: Laurie doesn’t just put on black lipstick, drink and sulk to show that she’s damaged; she screams and cries and teeters on the edge of mental collapse in ways that are uncomfortable to watch.

Speaking of uncomfortable, how about that killing spree? After all, this is a slasher movie, and people aren’t paying good money to watch a two-hour treatise on PTSD. As I mentioned before, Rob Zombie doesn’t appear to like modern horror audiences—he goes out of his way to make each murder a drawn-out, graphic act of amoral rage. Whether someone is getting their head removed with a shard of glass, having their face pounded to hamburger with a heavy boot, or getting their brains smashed into a mirror—not to mention the multiple butcher knife stabbings—nearly every character that appears on-screen is dispatched in a visceral manner. The only reason many people attend these films is for the catharsis of the creative kill; it’s why there’s a fourth Final Destination coming out next week. Unlike other films of its ilk, Halloween 2 forces the audience to view the victims as actual victims, and not puppets at the end of some nihilistic Rube Goldberg contrivance. There are no “kills” in this movie, only murders.

In addition to the shrieking, mentally unbalanced protagonist, and the psychopath whose exploits could have been ripped from any police report, we have Dr. Loomis. His head was nearly crushed in the first movie, and that seems to have done something to his mind—or at least his motives. Malcom McDowell’s take on the character this time around couldn’t be more different than Donald Pleasance’s original role, which was that of the concerned doctor trying to warn and save a town from its own ignorance. The new Dr. Loomis is a fame-hungry cretin, who knows that Myers’ body has been missing for a year and refuses to do anything that would take him away from his book tour. Loomis takes part in an almost completely parallel tale, which I love because it illustrates another stage of post-traumatic disturbance, another coping mechanism that’s uglier and truer to the situation than the earlier films. Though no one can replace Pleasance in spirit or acting caliber, his Boy Scout routine always struck me as one-note—in the later sequels, it devolved into sickly parody. Many of McDowell's scenes are meant to parody the antics of TV shrinks and self-help gurus, but the actor plays the conflict in his face so brilliantly that the guilt can't help but show through the smarm.

I don’t want to make Halloween 2 out to be a perfect, revolutionary horror movie. It’s not. There are plenty of obvious “I’ll be right back” moments and killer-coming-at-ya scenes that have absolutely no suspenseful impact; not to mention the stock idiots who should know better than to do some of the things they do. But Rob Zombie incorporates these ridiculous genre tropes into his movie in a way that lets the audience know that he knows he’s making a slasher flick; just as you wouldn’t score a Benny Hill skit without a slide whistle, you don’t write a masked-killer movie without a kids-making-out-in-a-van/cabin/pool scene. Fortunately, Myers has been established as a shadowy drifter rather than an unstoppable killing force (known in previous incarnations as "The Shape"), which puts just subtle enough of a spin on these clichés to save them from being timewasters.

The film is also set apart by some truly haunting cinematography. Only rarely does Zombie regress to the rock-montage filler that marred his first effort, House of 1000 Corpses; instead, he peppers the movie with several surreal moments, all reflective of his characters' questionable mental states. Be it with a banquet attended by pumpkin-headed circus geeks or a vision of Michael Myers' mother walking a white horse, the movie breaks the visual narrative frequently; like Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street, there are enough moments where the fantastic encroaches on the mundane that one might wonder if the main story is actually happening. But even without those elements, the compositions in this movie are grand, making moonlit woodscapes and a rain-drenched hospital parking lot look like the most important shots of the film; a less caring director may have insisted on brushing past these key bits of atmosphere.

It’s easy enough to dismiss this movie as loud, gruesome trash; but it would be wrong to do so—at least without viewing it with an open mind. Like Zombie’s 2005 masterpiece (you read that right) The Devil’s Rejects, Halloween 2 is a fantasy about rotten people hunting and killing good people. The key difference is genre—Rejects is a Western/road picture; Halloween 2 is a slasher movie. What unites them is an appreciation of the psychotic mind and the horrors that lie in real-life encounters with murderers; the Firefly family in Rejects took hostages, raped, and shot innocents indiscriminately, all the while carrying on witty family banter; in doing so, they came to represent every suburban parent’s worst nightmare: a wholly undeterred, unreasoning threat to safety. Michael Myers doesn’t speak, and in his silent, brutal acts he represents the collective fears of the modern age—the idea that we can be snuffed out cruelly and without warning by bus or by butcher knife. Zombie's take on the character shows us how horrifying that prospect can be.

I doubt the audience for this movie will get any of that—especially if there’s as much texting and talking going on as there was in my screening—but Rob Zombie has said his piece; he’s warned everyone who came out for the freak show that there’s nothing funny or amusing about watching someone bleed to death. Halloween 2 will by no means be the last slasher movie ever made, but it’s the last one we’ll ever need.

Monday
Aug242009

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Oscar's List

I hate it when people applaud at the end of movies. Maybe it’s because I often find myself screaming at them on the inside, wondering what it was about, for example, District 9 that said, “Yes! This is such a revolutionary motion picture that I must show not only appreciation, but gratitude!” Audiences will clap for the most surface-level bullshit (Dark Knight, I’m looking at you) that the gesture has become meaningless. As you can probably tell from most of the reviews here, I barely even like many of the movies I endure, so the idea of joyous clapping when the lights come up is pretty much a foreign concept to me. I applauded at the end of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds.

What a fantastic film! For Tarantino die-hards, this is the one you’ve been waiting for: a return to his violent, dialogue-driven crime drama roots; yes, it’s a war picture, but at heart it’s also an elaborate caper movie, with as lively and varied a cast as you’re likely to see this decade. Though I’ve been a fan of QT’s work for the last decade (yes, even Death Proof), his last few efforts have seemed strained; Jackie Brown felt like Pulp Fiction via Mallrats, and Kill Bill was a wholly different beast than the writer/director had tackled before (I loved the result, by the way, but it beat with a different heart than his other forays into the criminal underworld). Leaving the theatre, I felt a mind-bent exuberance that I hadn’t felt since I was sixteen, after having seen Pulp Fiction for the first time; my wife asked about the dopey look on my face and—crude, but true—I told her that I’d cum in my soul.

Speaking of which, I’ll quit jerking off Tarantino and get down to the business of why the movie deserves such high praise. Simply put, this is the tightest script delivered by the best ensemble cast that I’ve seen in years. Inglorious Basterds is a mad, bloody piece of revisionist history that imagines a band of American soldiers—all Jewish, save for their Southern Lieutenant, Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt)—dropped into Nazi-occupied France in 1944; their mission: to strike terror into Nazi soldiers by committing unthinkable acts of violence against them. The opportunity of a lifetime presents itself when Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth) decides to hold the premiere of his new propaganda film in a French theatre, with the entire Nazi high command in attendance. If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ve seen Pitt’s Raine recruiting his men, establishing the basic setup, as well as a crazed Hitler (Martin Wuttke) pounding his fist on a table; you may think this is a battle movie, full of raids and bravado, and you’d be wrong. The genius of the film and the incredibly reserved marketing campaign is that they tease the prospective audience with about a quarter of the film’s plot, which is so full of characters and developments that it fills 159 minutes to bursting.

I won’t go much further into the story details because you deserve to see this film fresh; there are a handful of jaw-dropping moments that should not be spoiled. Instead, I’d like to give a shout-out to some of the cast members who made me wish their characters had been real historical figures. First, of course, is Christoph Waltz, who plays Hans Landa, “The Jew Hunter”. His Nazi officer is the stuff of cinema legend, combining menace and joviality in a sinister performance that is effortlessly delivered in four languages (three in a single scene!). He won the top acting prize at Cannes this year, and if he doesn’t walk away with the Oscar—well, I’ll still watch the show, ‘cause I’m obsessed, but I’ll be very pissed off.

Next is Michael Fassbender, as British spy Archie Hicox. He’s a James Bond prototype who, once introduced, takes over the film and convinces the audience that he’s going to save the day; he also gets one of the weirdest character intros I’ve seen in awhile: he’s called into a secret meeting with a practically nonverbal Winston Churchill and a top commander played by Mike Myers in a performance that’s utterly ridiculous in its seriousness—imagine Austin Powers masquerading as Basil Exposition. The great thing about the Hicox character is that he’s a film critic in civilian life, which gives him a particular advantage in a British plot to foil the Nazis. Tarantino writes Hicox as a literate, passionate man, rather than the clueless snob that many filmgoers have in mind when they think of critics.

Lastly, there’s the utterly lovely, heartbreaking Melanie Laurent, who plays Shosanna Dreyfus. Inglorious Basterds is really her film. Shosanna owns the theatre that is selected to host Goebbels’ premiere, and her complicated relationship to the Nazis—to one in particular—drives the movie’s plot forward and makes a fascinating mess of the climax; I say “mess” flatteringly, because a series of accidents, double-crosses and good old fashioned fate combine to stamp Shosanna’s face firmly into the soul of the film and into our minds. Not once did I believe I was watching a performance by a gifted actress, so convinced was I that Melanie Laurent was a cunning, vulnerable woman. She puts the stars of conventional Hollywood rom-coms and “dramas” to shame with the film’s second Oscar-worthy portrayal.

There’s not a rotten actor in the bunch, and that includes Brad Pitt. His is definitely the lightest character in the film, in terms of depth, but his Southern-gentlemanly, hard-ass soldier bit anchors and mesmerizes with a voice and persona that’s like a living Sgt. Rock comic book crossed with Brando’s Don Corleone. It is in his scenes that Tarantino seems to ape the Cohen Brothers, constructing absurd situations that end horrifically, all with a reassuring wink.

There may be criticisms to level at Inglorious Basterds, but at present I can’t think of any. Certainly, the film leaves some lingering questions, but Tarantino keeps us swept up in the moment so well that we’re effectively distracted until after we've left the theatre. His love of filmmaking and film viewing needs to be more contagious than it is. I would rather have six movies like this come out in a year—ones dreamt of, pondered, and crafted—than the three hundred mediocre pieces of garbage that pass as entertainment (ironically, Basterds was shot on a very tight schedule). The point being that people tend to give a pass to lazy direction and writing (especially) because they’re so starved for spectacle that the quality bar is set lower and lower every month.

Quentin Tarantino thinks better of his audience. He knows that one doesn’t need to sacrifice intelligence for action; that not every scene has to be a plot marker on a pitch board; he allows his movies to breathe and in turn invites the audience to get restless, to get nervous, to feel they’ve got as much at stake in the characters’ decisions as the characters themselves. Inglorious Basterds is as smart a film as you’re likely to see, and not just because it has sub-titles for seventy-five percent of the running time. It’s the kind of movie that will make you stand up and demand better entertainment. It might even make you applaud.

Sunday
Aug232009

Post Grad, 2009

A Minor in Film

I really do see everything; at least, I make an effort to see as many movies as I can, preferably in a theatre. When people ask me why I sit through movies like Bratz or Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector, I answer that every film deserves a chance. By writing off pictures without having seen them, moviegoers can deprive themselves the joy (and terror) of being surprised. This is not to say that every movie is worthwhile, but that kind of judgment can only be rendered once a film has been seen in its entirety (people who walk out of movies do not deserve to comment on them). With that out of the way, I’d like to talk about Post Grad.

From the trailers, Post Grad appears to be a workplace/wacky-family comedy for teenagers. Though the story centers around a just-graduated English Major named Ryden Malby (Gilmore GirlsAlexis Bledel), the film is not meant to appeal to anyone with an actual degree: it paints as accurate a picture of college grads as Saved By the Bell did of high school students. Ryden is an utterly bland, overly cheerful girl who dreams of being a book editor for a major publishing house. She and her lifelong, strictly platonic best friend, Adam (Zach Gilford), trek to Los Angeles for a big interview at said publisher. Along the way, Ryden puts down a $3500 security deposit (including first and last month’s rent) on a spacious, brand-new apartment with a great view of L.A. If you read that last sentence without raising an incredulous eyebrow, congratulations: you’re Post Grad’s target audience.

Though it clearly does not take place in our reality, Post Grad tries to pass itself off as a whimsical comedy about finding oneself in the real world. The problem lies in the movie’s tonal inconsistency; it is at once cute and semi-semi-plausible, and also a thud-landing farce full of misfit characters who seem to have wandered in from a sitcom block party. For instance, Ryden’s family includes a little brother whose hobby is licking people, a get-rich-quick-scheme-obsessed dad, and an allegedly on-the-verge-of-death crazy grandmother, played by Carol Burnett’s hipflask. These people are so bizarre, their neuroses so out of place and unwelcome, that they derail the entire picture just by being in it. The problem is that screenwriter Kelly Fremon takes the focus off of Ryden’s drive to get into publishing and spends the rest of the picture creating bogus scenarios for her family to stumble through. Dad runs over a neighbor’s cat; Dad gets arrested for selling stolen belt buckles; little Hunter wants to build a boxcar for the big race on Saturday. Isn’t this movie called Post Grad?

To be sure, Ryden’s identity crisis gets some screen time. We hear plenty of “If I’m not a book editor, who am I?” whining, along with plenty of clueless dissing of her best friend’s romantic advances—she opts instead to carry on a creepy flirtation with a Brazillian infomercial director (Rodrigo Santoro)—all with Alexis Bledel’s poorly acted robo-theatrics. Yeah, I said it. Alexis Bledel can’t act. Sorry for the tangent here, but if you subtract Gilmore Girls and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants—which provided strong ensemble performers to mask the stench—you’re left with Sin City and this movie, in which she has the delivery of a Gap model reading a teleprompter with a two-inch-wide screen. It’s a hard thing to say, honestly, because Bledel seems earnest enough, and she’s button-cute, but in the end, she didn’t have the charisma to make me overlook the by-the-numbers screenplay (SPOILER: Ryden and Adam end up together) or the ever-shifting point of her film.

Post Grad reminded me a lot of Better Off Dead, one of my favorite movies. The key difference is that Better Off Dead is a farce, but it is also a keenly observant comedy about teenage alienation—imagine John Hughes writing a MAD Magazine parody of one of his own films. Post Grad seems to want the same thing out of its story, but neither the writer nor director Vicky Jenson have the deft touch necessary to establish the movie as ridiculous and then gradually surprise their audience with heart. They instead have chosen to begin with plausibility and then hastily devolve into a story that no one can relate to on an intellectual or emotional level—which is important for both comedy and farce.

If the film has one thing to offer audiences, it’s Michael Keaton, who plays Ryden’s father, Walter Malby. When he’s not dreaming up novelty belt buckles or building boxcars out of coffins, Keaton is quite endearing and believable as a loving, suburban dad. Unfortunately, the minutes he’s given to actually act in Post Grad are probably equal to those you’ve spent reading this review; which encapsulates the movie's central flaw: it has real things to say to an audience that might actually want to hear them, but the filmmakers, apparently, don’t believe that. Perhaps someone should educate them.

Thursday
Aug202009

The Collector (2009)

Sue Me, I Liked It

Here’s the review that will likely determine how you feel about this blog. It doesn’t matter if you agreed or disagreed with me about Julie & Julia or District 9. No, the real test will come when you try to wrap your brain around the fact that I think The Collector is a better film. Unlike those trumped-up blockbusters, this movie contains actual surprises and fleshed-out ideas.

The first surprise happens almost instantly, when the Lionsgate Films logo doesn’t open the picture. From the few TV spots I’d seen, The Collector looked to be a Saw knock-off manufactured by the same studio that birthed that franchise. This is an independent horror film that somehow managed a small theatrical release, so right away I was intrigued. Often, I walk into a movie knowing something about the plot, but with this one, all I had was an inkling that The Collector would be a nail in the coffin of the torture-porn genre (okay, not counting Saw VI).

I was also pleased with the movie’s leisurely first half-hour. For a film that barely runs seventy-five minutes, The Collector takes its time establishing characters and mood rather than dousing the screen in bloody money shots. The story involves a handyman named Arkin (Josh Stewart) who hatches a plan to steal a large jewel from the safe of a wealthy family who’s going out of town for an extended vacation; his ex-wife, it seems, has run afoul of some lowlifes, and he agrees to exchange the gem for her safety. Director Marcus Dunstan effectively uses the slow burn in telling Arkin’s story, letting us feel the tedium and jealousy at play in having to take care of the family’s nice house, and the simple joy of being able to spend nearly a whole paycheck on a special doll for his daughter. The Collector plays as more of a crime film than a horror movie until Arkin returns to the house for the burglary.

It’s here that the movie becomes a "cat-and-mouse thriller", punctuated by occasional gore and mutilation. As he cracks the family’s safe, Arkin is interrupted by an intruder, a menacing masked man who has apparently taken much of the family hostage in the basement. He breaks the greatest horror movie convention by immediately kicking into self-preservation mode and trying to escape the house. Unfortunately, the entire place has been rigged with traps, from razor-blade-lined windows to a minefield of bear traps in the dining room. It seems the only safe place to walk is wherever the masked assailant happens to be, which makes moving between floors tricky at best.

I found The Collector to be a puzzling movie, as I wasn't sure who it was made for. It’s too languid, and not spectacularly flashy enough to capture the teen and horror-fan audience; though it's adult enough in its execution to warrant a viewing by people who are likely to never give it a chance. While it does succumb to several tropes of the genre, it also attempts to elevate them, mostly through Stewart’s performance. In the simplest of terms, a genre film should make the viewer feel something: comedies should make you laugh; science fiction should make you think; horror should make you cringe. And I cringed a lot during The Collector. By film’s end, I knew that I’d never watch it again—I’m long past the point where home-invasion fantasies pass as entertainment on their own merits—but I was glad that I saw it in the theatre. It’s nice to be surprised every once in awhile, to have expectations exceeded rather than deflated.

To those who’ve made up their mind about my opinions based on this review, I will qualify my endorsement by paraphrasing a wonderful cliché: you will probably like this movie if this is the kind of movie that you like. This is to say that I’d never stack it up next to A Clockwork Orange or The Americanization of Emily, but as a horror film it certainly fares better than a lot of the crap coming out of the major studios in recent years. And unlike District 9 and Julie & Julia, The Collector is consistent in its themes and it strives to be more than what it is purported to be.