To engage an audience and elicit a specific emotional response from said audience is a basic and underlying principle of filmmaking, one that carries across all genres and periods. However, this principle is occasionally taken to the extreme and has produced some of film’s more infamous and controversial titles. Last House on the Left (1972), Caligula (1979) and The Human Centipede (2009) are all prime examples of emotional elicitation pushed to the very edge. Collar, the latest entry by writer/director Ryan Nicolson, aims to shock and awe in the same vein as the aforementioned films. Does Collar push the envelope, or does it sulk in the shadows of other controversial pieces of cinema?
In regards to plot, Collar doesn’t feature so much of a story as it does a basic premise: When urban police officers Dana (Aidan Dee) and Jerry (Tony Cipriano) go to check out a report of public assault, they encounter the deranged homeless man known only as Massive (Nick Principe). Of course, Massive is no ordinary hobo, as he insists upon mangling everyone who ventures into his dilapidated section of the city. There isn’t much in the way of character development or progression aside from a few flashbacks regarding Massive and his traumatic past, but weaving together a riveting narrative is definitely not Collar‘s intent.
Content wise, Collar would undoubtedly have Roger Ebert rolling over in his grave, not at the filmmaking techniques employed but rather at the over-the-top depictions of humanity at its worst. Prostitution, rape, murder and cannibalism are the four walls which comprise Collar‘s grimy, back-alley shack of horror. Exemplifying the film’s sadistic philosophy is its opening, where the rugged derelict — Massive — hammers away repeatedly at a helplessly nude Dana’s face. Likewise, one of the more memorable moments occurs when Massive grabs an unsuspecting prostitute, breaks her over his knee and begins to feed from her exposed flesh. Classy and heartwarming? No. Gruesome, obscene and memorable? Most certainly yes.
In the visual department, Collar is a reasonably prominent effort. Characteristically, the film features certain grittiness thanks to its dirty urban décor, film grain and low-key lighting. These elements — in conjunction with events depicted on screen — aid in providing the film with contemporary grindhouse/exploitation vibe. There’s also a certain voyeurism to the film, with many shots that feel zoomed-in and handheld. This style of camera work relates to the amateur nature of which low-life’s Steven and Derrick (Frederic Levasseur and Roger Dunkley II) use to capture Massive’s actions via cell phone. Luckily, the frequency of these shots is moderate and they’re never used for excessively wild tracking shots, a la the shakiest of found-footage films.
Brash and unapologetic, Collar is sure to disturb, offend, upset and stir questions about the ethics of Ryan Nicholson in the eyes of more sensitive viewers. Collar isn’t likely to raise (lower?) the bar for provocatively dark films, nor is it likely to go down alongside cult-classics like Blood Feast (1963) and I Spit on Your Grave (1978). Still, this depraved seventy-one minute urban nightmare will satiate the low-budget bloodlust of viewers casually searching for their next fix.