Loyal followers of our site know that we’re horror-skeptics. We pack most of them into the schedule around Halloween and tend to forget the genre for the rest of the year. As the head of our programming team that is mostly my fault—I just don’t respond that well to the four-minute jump-scare pieces that dominate the short form! Good horror to me is more existential than a monster in the closet, and the dread that I find delicious requires time and stakes and, ideally, characters I care about. My advice to creators within the genre is, can you just make your films a bit less…generic? Given the overwhelming heat of horror in film and television at the moment, I suppose I’m the baddie here, but I think it would be nice to try and make films that, y’know, work as films first and foremost.
That’s what The Collector does, a new, creepy 10-minute film from Marcus Alqueres that engaged me from the start and established tone, setting, and characters that I invested in long before it takes its twisted turn. Designed by the professional VFX-veteran as an experiment in a more naturalistic directing style, Alqueres’ vision with this film was to “introduce an unexpected supernatural element into a rather conventional drama, resulting in an unpredictable turn of events.”
Pepe is a run-of-the-mill, overworked drug dealer. Locked up in his modest apartment, he’s busy packaging up his product when Julie, a sassy, attractive client stops by. She offers to do his work for him as long as she gets a small cut and Pepe begrudgingly accepts the help. It’s an opportunity to rest, but also to look over his bed-ridden father in the next room. When Julie fucks up (as drug addicts in films are liable to do) Pepe is placed in a jam. Does a mysterious business card for a legendary “fixer” hold the answer to his predicament? Maybe, but Pepe doesn’t have a clue about the true cost of this help.
The Collector is a triumph of low-budget efficiency: a single set, a couple of LED panels, and a smoke machine. Yet its grungy flophouse set design and gritty cinematography provide a perfect sense of the place and characters. Pepe (Stefano Capuzzi Lapietra) is not a revelatory creation, but I found his workaday, no-nonsense approach to business endearing. The way he pushes Julie’s flirtations aside give insight into his character, but the way he does it, and importantly, his interactions with his father, serve to unmask the gruffness and reveal a sensitivity underneath. Julie (Nathália Boga) similarly does not represent a high-water mark for nuanced depictions of women on screen, and yet she is a delight—intensely charismatic, her inherent mischievousness is clear from the start but sucks you in, and you feel legitimate concern regarding her fate.
Alqueres is not a stranger to our site, having been featured in 2013 for his dark superhero story The Flying Man. A massive hit at the time, the film has achieved over 25M views online in the years since and landed the Brazilian filmmaker a deal at Sony Pictures in 2015. Although Sony never brought the project to fruition, Alqueres regained the rights to the property and his ambitions for adaptation are very much alive. Moreover, he’s in the midst of developing a graphic novel based on the current script.
Beyond that, Alqueres has been staying busy. Sensing the industry’s receptiveness to horror shorts (this week Come Play, a feature adaptation of the S/W short Larry, announced a July theatrical release), Alqueres has produced a series of shorts within the genre, such as Lasiurus, and Crittus, over the past few years. I guess I’m showing my cards here, but I suggest that by leaning into character and forgoing the conventional genre markers for so long in The Collector, Alqueres is able to produce his best work yet. Here’s hoping however that it won’t stay his best work for long, while the film is premiering today, Alqueres is already hard at work on two new projects, finishing a short film called The Great Kineeso, as well as beginning pre-production of a feature film called Snowblind.