There's a bad movie every week, but it takes a special one to make you start thinking about the decline of Western civilization. Which brings us to The Collection, a movie with one idea, and get ready, it's a big one: Imagine if young people think they're in a dance club, but they're actually in a really big food processor.
A second idea is really a subset of the first one and also has a culinary inspiration. Imagine if the few young folks who escape getting pureed in the food processor accidentally get stuck in . . . a gigantic garlic press! Wouldn't that be something?
And yes, it is something. The Collection is bloody, disgusting, and ridiculous, but the one thing it's not is horror, not real horror, not in the sense of tense or scary. It's not cinema, either. It's not even fun.
A good rule of thumb when it comes to horror movies is that the ones that tap exclusively into the fear of death - the ones that operate from the assumption that the absolute worst thing that can happen is being dead - usually come up short. Most slashers fall into that category. They skirt the real source of horror, which is the terror of living in a malevolent universe, the terror of the unknown and unknowable.
Much better are the horror movies that tap into existential terror - the fear of losing one's soul. This can be the soul in a religious sense, as in The Exorcist, but it can also be Invasion of the Body Snatchers, or a movie that makes audiences question their conception of reality, such as Carnival of Souls.
In this light, The Collection can be seen as the ultimate (let's hope ultimate) example of secular horror in a secular age. If you see life as entirely mechanistic and the body as a machine, then the best you'll ever come up with is throwing people into a blender, or a juicer, or an ice cream maker. You can raise the stakes forever: Fill up a soccer field with people and have the ground open up to reveal a tremendous microwave oven. But it will mean nothing, because unless you believe that life has intrinsic value, your horror movie can have no impact.
In The Collection - from director Marcus Dunstan (he wrote Saw IV) - there is a serial killer in a black mask who has been staging mass murders but also abducting individuals to add to his collection. One day Elena (Emma Fitzpatrick) and her friends go off to an underground dance club (oh no!), and the night takes an unfortunate turn. Most of her friends are liquefied. The rest are rendered two-dimensional. But Elena, the lucky one, ends up in a trunk in the maniac's house.
The rest of the movie is about a rescue team's misguided attempt to rescue the young woman from this horrible nest of death and doom. It's just a small handful of people, because a SWAT team or the National Guard would just get in the way, what with all their guns and all. And that's the whole movie: People in a house coming across disgusting things - pickled half bodies, mountains of decaying body parts - while trying to avoid booby traps. About an hour of screen time is spent in that house, and the effect isn't terrifying or claustrophobic, just numbing and disheartening.
In The Collection, modern horror comes to the end of a decadelong dead end.
The Collection 1/2* (out of four stars)
Directed by Marcus Dunstan. With Emma Fitzpatrick and Josh Stewart. Distributed by LD Entertainment.
Running time: 1 hour, 23 mins.
Parent's guide: R (grisly violence, bloody images, torture)
Playing at: area theaters