Everything old is new again
They say that “familiarity breeds contempt”. Normally, I would agree. But in the case of two horror movies I watched recently, I would add that there’s nothing a good twist can’t do to make familiariy seem brand new. At first look, The Collector and Orphan seem like warmed-over versions of Saw and The Bad Seed; however, by the time the end credits rolled, I felt like I had seen two entirely new movies, both of which were extremely entertaining and satisfying.
Imagine if Jigsaw made housecalls. How would you like to come home to a house booby-trapped with gruesome devices of death and torture? Better yet, how would you like to be an “innocent” bystander: an ex-con who plans a robbery of the house and unknowingly stumbles into the trap? This is The Collector.
The Saw comparisons are inevitable, so it’s interesting that I learned afterwards it was oringinally intended to be a prequel to that series. In fact, it was written by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton, who penned Saws IV through VII/3D, and was directed by Dunstan (his first time behind the camera). General comparisons aside, it’s been tweaked to stand on its own; I don’t really see John Kramer as the mastermind behind the house remodeling. That is, unless he was doing it for practice.
The Collector is a little contrived: the ex-con has a heart of gold, reluctantly planning the robbery for philanthropic reasons, and then becoming a hero to rescue the victims. It’s a heavy-handed setup, but it’s an awful lot of fun. Dunstan is a pro, manipulating the camera, especially in the finale, with skill, creating constant suspense and a minimum of false scares.
Logistically, The Collector makes no sense. But don’t think about how traps suddenly appear where moments before there were none, or when they could have been set. The point is not how the situation was created; rather, how they survive it. If you suspend your disbelief from the very beginning, it’s hard not to sit on the edge of your seat, cringing with every potential explosion of gore.
The cast is strictly basic cable: Josh Stewart (“Dirt”) and Andrea Roth (“Rescue Me”), to name two; however, they are very good. You don’t need big stars in a movie like this, just convincing ones.
In contrast, Orphan has an A-list cast (Vera Farmiga, Peter Sarsgaard, CCH Pounder) but a less-original story: young couple adopts troubled child who turns out to be evil. Yawn. Oh, and one parent doesn’t believe the other about said child’s… evilness. Big yawn.
However, the big twist is so outrageous, so unbelievable, that it is just downright brilliant! My first instict was to eject the disc from my player. But the more I thought about it, it made perfect sense and turned the remainder of the movie into something entirely different. All the clues were there, but I did not expect the twist, and looking back on the beginning, it was a perfect development.
Not quite as suspenseful as The Collector, and certainly less gory, Orphan is B-movie material at its very best. Director Jaume Collet-Serra also did the remake of House of Wax five years ago, which I actually liked for the same reason. Orphan was written by first-timers David Johnson and Alex Mace, who are doing the upcoming Red Riding Hood, a fact which gives me high hopes for that one.
It’s not often I can say I had “fun” watching a horror movie. Good ones are scary, sure, and there’s the feeling of relief and satisfaction when the tension breaks. But to actually “enjoy” the entire experience is rare. How unusual it is, then, to watch two in a row that were so satisfying. Just sit back and relax, grab some popcorn, and I think you’d be hard-pressed to not like The Collector and Orphan, neither terribly original, but both seemingly brand new.