Marcus Dunstan and his writing partner Patrick Melton came to fame on the now defunct reality show, Project Greenlight. It followed the entire production of a film that would be produced by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, from the choosing of the script all the way through post production. Dunstan and Melton's script for the film, Feast, was picked up in Greenlight's final season, and hilariously documented through it's creation. But, Feast, was without doubt the most successful of the Project Greenlight films (not to mention being a really fun horror/comedy). Dunstan and Melton then got to try their hand at doing some writing for the horror franchise that was the heavyweight champion of the box office at the time with Saw IV. Dunstan and Melton ultimately helped write the final four films in the Saw franchise.
That success gave Dunstan and Melton the opportunity to a film of their own along the way, with Dunstan in the directors chair. The Collector had some similarities to the Saw franchise in that it involved rather elaborate traps and was gore galore. It focused on Aiden Arkin, a former thief being swallowed up by debt who decides he's going to loot the country home of his former employer. What he doesn't know is that someone else has plans for the same house on that same night, The Collector of the films title. Chaos ensues. Bodies pile up. Blood gushes. Just when he thinks he's made it out and is home free, Aiden is captured by The Collector, and that's how the first film ends.
The Collection picks up at some point not very long after the ending of the first film. But it begins by following a group of young party animals into one of those underground parties to which one can only receive an invitation to online and that they have to give a password in order to be allowed to enter. It's not giving anything away that the trailers don't to say that despite all of the nubile skin on display (or maybe because of it) this isn't the kind of party you want to attend. The cops showing up with a few paddy wagons would be preferable to what The Collector has planned for the party goers. As luck has it though, Aiden manages to escape in the midst of the chaos, having been released from a locked trunk by one of the young women who he sees get abducted by The Collector.
As Aiden convalesces in the hospital, he's sent flowers with a card that more or less suggests The Collector is going after his family. He sends his wife and daughter away and not long after is approached by a man who is employed by the father of the girl who'd released Aiden. They want Aiden to help them find the girl, and then they'll kill The Collector. Seeing the new threat against his family, Aiden agrees, leading a team of what are apparently private security people to the place he was held.
So goes the story of The Collection. The original film wasn't terrible, but it wasn't particularly great either. It has some interesting set pieces and if there was anything better than mediocre about it at all, Josh Stewart's ability to play the moral ambiguity of his character and to carry the film were it. He was good in the first film, giving what was otherwise a pretty nihilistic and dreary movie it's only glimmer of heart or humanity. At the same time, it knew it's audience and understood what they wanted out of a multiplex horror film at the time, and delivered on those expectations. It didn't reinvent the wheel, even though it was visually striking, the story and the characters didn't quite make the kind of impact that could lift it above being more than just fair horror film that was probably only going to play well with horror fans.
The Collection, follows a very similar formula. There are some creative ideas along the way and Dunstan and Melton manage to create a few things that are actually interesting and somewhat new, but overall, it ends up being a well shot, well acted, horror film that isn't great, but isn't horrible and probably won't be remembered until the next sequel is released. What bits of creative and new ideas make it into the film aren't used to their fullest potential and aren't fully explored in a way that could really add a dimension to the movie because they're essentially pushed aside to make room and time for much more mundane and ultimately predictable plot moments and the spectacle of The Collectors lair, an abandoned hotel he's been plying his trade in for some unspecified amount of time. There's the feeling that either Dunstan and Melton are such fans of this kind of film that they didn't even notice the more interesting ideas they'd come up with because they were obsessed with creating something in the vein of what they love or they've been working in the sequel/studio formula for so long, they didn't even bother to consider exploring them because they're so used to the kind of "bigger/more" formula that followed the Saw franchise and so many others before it. There's a lot of concept being tossed around, but not much character, and probably even less story.
In a way, it's a hard film to review because it's expectations of itself are so low. The focus is on the "more and bigger" formula of the least interesting horror franchises, that it doesn't ever seem to consider that there was a possibility that it could be better than it's predecessor. It ends up being a film whose main flaw and main success is that it's exceedingly mediocre. There are more bodies, more blood, more screams and so forth, but just as little in the way of a feeling that the story itself matters. The story ends up feeling like its there as the excuse for everything else, instead of everything else being there in order to move the story and/or characters forward. And again, Josh Stewart is unfortunately saddled with trying to carry the film forward on little more than his charisma or likability. And he is a really likable actor, playing a likable character. He gets some help from Emma Fitzpatrick as Elena, the girl who was responsible for him getting away from The Collector in the first place and who he's been sent back to retrieve. Her character is smart and tough and given some moments to display some real humanity, but even with these two characters being admirably portrayed by these two actors, the whole thing ends up feeling pretty hollow. There are a few pretty disturbing, unsettling and gross moments in the film, but without enough of a story to feel any connection to the characters, none of that has the kind of impact that it could. Ingenious traps and death scenes can be fun in their way, but on their own they can't carry a story beyond being a kind of throwaway novelty, the equivalent of a cinematic roadside attraction. The film never even gets sufficiently strange to make a more lasting impact. It just kind of chugs along, hitting it's plot points, most of which are pretty rote and boring, and moving on to the next set piece and more gore.
At the end of the day, anyone who liked The Collector is probably going to like The Collection. The film doesn't really succeed in expanding the series or character mythology very far, and it's not the kind of emotionally or intellectually gripping experience that the better horror films are, but it succeeds in being as not terrible and not great as the original film. The chances are good that the majority of the audience this film is geared toward aren't going to feel like they wasted their time or money. Everyone else is going to feel like they wasted both. Good cinematography, two good leads, and a few nods toward some much more interesting ideas isn't enough to make this one for anyone but the more die hard horror fanatics.