Starring: Terence Stamp, Samantha Eggar, Mona Washbourne
Director: William Wyler
Running Time: 119 mins
The Collector is a British film about a young woman who is kidnapped by a socially awkward man, who keeps her in his cellar simply for the pleasure of having her around.
This is such a strange film. You’ve seen kidnap dramas before, but never one as polite and cordial as this, following an awkward man successfully taking a young woman and locking her up, yet treating her in a way that’s both strangely nice and even more unsettling. It’s a great premise that at times makes for riveting watching, although it seems that director William Wyler gets a little stuck when it comes to deciding just how serious he wants to play the whole affair.
The weirdest part of the whole movie comes in its opening sequence, as we watch the man following his future captive around town in a rather menacing manner, yet with the entire sequence set to strangely pleasant lullaby-esque music. From that moment, it’s clear that the film isn’t going to be a normal kidnap drama, and it proves an unsettling opening that expertly establishes the lead character’s personality.
However, while it’s an original and effective opening, it’s the point of the film where its biggest weakness comes from. While I found the lullaby nature of the kidnapping sequence rather unsettling, I also felt that there was a little bit of comedy at play too, trying to subvert expectations while playing the story in a rather ironic manner, something that distracted me and left me expecting a lighter-hearted atmosphere throughout, something that I do think could have made the film a better watch.
Anyway, what’s equally strange is the opening exchanges between the kidnapper and his captive. This isn’t a film like Room, where the motives of the kidnapper and the fate of the captive is more apparent, but more comparable in a modern context to something like 10 Cloverfield Lane, where we really aren’t sure where the kidnapper is coming from, and with the captive not in immediate apparent danger, it really spices the story up from being a generic escape story to a more intriguing character analysis.
Terence Stamp plays the lead role rather well, and without overplaying his character’s stranger traits, he proves both an intimidating presence (as a kidnapper should), as well as someone who you feel has got a softer heart somewhere inside, keeping you intrigued as Samantha Eggar tries to touch into that and stop him from the madness of his decision to keep her there.
So, over the course of the remaining two-thirds of the film, you’re dragged into an intriguing back and forth as Eggar attempts all manner of strategies to escape, while Stamp becomes increasingly frustrated and unpredictable as a result of her behaviour, something that’s portrayed brilliantly throughout by Wyler, and is full of tension and drama that will have you glued to the screen.
At times, when the film is at full tension, it’s a truly thrilling watch, and its darkest moments in particular prove exceptionally striking. However, when it’s not at those heights, and is in the middle of a long and uncomfortably polite conversation between the two in the cellar, things aren’t quite as enthralling.
That extreme politeness and cordiality are a little off-putting at times, and take away from the seriousness of the situation at hand. That’s why I felt that Wyler misses a trick by not bringing in some more comedic elements to make those dialogues stick out less like a sore thumb in the middle of thrilling drama, as they could have brought some good levity that would have made things a little more convincing, and the story flow a little better.
Overall, however, I was impressed by The Collector. It’s not the perfect thriller, and doesn’t quite strike that balance between serious and dark thrills with its more unique elements, but it still remains an intriguing watch as you attempt to unpack what the kidnapper is thinking throughout, and what way the fate of the young woman trapped there is set to go as a result, which is why I’m giving it a 7.4.