If The Collection is indicative of the progress made by torture porn in its several years’ existence as a popular horror genre, the evidence suggests that very little has changed, except that the films are now apparently wearing their neurotic religious convictions on their sleeve.

Natalie Portman lookalike Emma Fitzpatrick stars as Elena, a rich, nondescript teen or twentysomething who, along with a couple of other nondescript teens or twentysomethings, decides to go to a “party” at a mysteriously hidden dance club tucked away in a seedy slum that even “rats won’t shit on.”  Unfortunately, after a little carefree techno booty-shaking, Elena sees her boyfriend with another woman and punches him – and then, alas, more unfortunate still, her friends and most of the other sluts are cut down on the dancefloor by a lowering matrix of blades that mows them into splattering mincemeat.  Elena evades this fate, but after releasing a captive thief (Josh Stewart) from a trunk, is herself captured by the leather S&M-masked man who runs the show.

Who is this man?  The Collector – first glimpsed during the opening credits, watching atrociously pixelated news broadcasts about himself that seem to suggest the trivializing dehumanization of mass media unreality – is a living illustration of Voltaire’s observation, “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”  Finding himself alone in a godless, loveless, chaotic, and poorly behaved world, the Collector, a genius inventor of Rube Goldberg mechanisms and a moralist of unstinting conviction, has set up shop in an abandoned hotel with a boobytrapped slut roach motel of sorts.  Here he plays both God and Devil (if such a distinction can actually exist), presiding over a labyrinthine, grimy, custom-built Hell and dealing death and cleverly contrived torments to anyone dumb enough to accept an invitation.

Fortunately for Elena, her father (Playroom‘s Christopher McDonald, wasted in a throwaway part) hires a group of mercenaries to go in and retrieve her with the help of Arkin, the thief she saved earlier in the film and whose occupation evokes the crucifixion of Christ.  Arkin, who agrees to help only reluctantly, proceeds to redeem himself over the course of the film; and one suspects that Josh Stewart may have been cast in the important role of Arkin not only because of the quiet, Christlike suffering conveyed in his face, but with a view to appropriating the actor’s real tattoos – a crucifix on one of his biceps and the Stewart clan’s Latin motto, “Virescit vulnere virtus” (“Courage strengthens at a wound”), on the other – as an integral component of the prevalent motif of Christian symbols utilized throughout The Collection.  Hellfire, purifying water and blood, temptation, betrayal, self-immolation, and limbs agonizingly transfixed by spikes and nails appear in profusion.

Unpleasant as all of this theological butcher shop imagery is, however, what ultimately prevents The Collection from being a good horror film is its mirthlessness, dearth of engaging characters, and emotionally sterile celebration of gross sadism in its depiction of the punishments meted out to the various sinners.  Few Christian films – and The Collection, make no mistake, is, even more than The Human Centipede, an unabashedly (albeit eccentric) WWJD t-shirt-wearing movie – have dared to present so bleakly psychotic a vision of God and Creation as the Collector presents to His audience.

Redemption from death is still possible through Christ (i.e., Arkin), but suffering is for everyone.  Obedience to the Collector’s whims earns misery for his slavish victims, but disobedience or failure earns misery and death.  One pretty young devotee of the Collector positively ejaculates her blood in an almost explicitly erotic epiphany when she stumbles into an iron maiden style contraption.  In one of the film’s few rewarding moments, Arkin, trapped in a cage again, appears to channel an oddly modern and vengeful Christ as he taunts His Father for cruelly forsaking Him, denouncing the Collector for being a “pussy”.  The Collector, of course, is eventually vanquished; but can one believe that His work is ever really done and that another will not emerge to take up His mantle, i.e., His S&M suit?

This is torture porn’s idea of religion: tattooed, vulgar, cold, sadistic, armed for twenty-first century spiritual warfare, and abandoning Sunday School in favor of educational evisceration.  Unfortunately, as a film, The Collection is, as its psychopathology might suggest, about as entertaining as some frowning sermon; effective ammunition for anarchist Mikhail Bakunin’s return of fire: “If God really existed, it would be necessary to abolish him.”

Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Collection is:

5. Anti-drug.  The Collector, like all effective religionists, dopes his victims so he can operate on them.

4. Pro-gun.  Guns do the Lord’s work of obliterating sinners.  Also, Arkin strategically fires a gun to attract the authorities to their location.

3. Feminist, but within bounds.  Elena, who sports a mannish haircut, acquits herself well throughout her ordeal and seizes a phallic implement at the climax to bash some of the Collector’s sculptural handiwork.  Sluts, however, have to go.

2. Anti-slut.  See Romans 6:23.

1. Christian, sort of.