Let us be honest, there is something inherently creepy about those mini-storage places. They are big, cavernous, concrete tombs where people store the detritus of their lives. They probably could just as well get rid of, but do not have the time or inclination to part with for whatever reason. Most of us have entirely too much stuff, it is true, but whatever happened to having a garage sale once in awhile to shed some of our excess baggage? I am all for sentimentality, but seriously, if things are getting to the point where your possessions are crowding out your living space, it is time to take a good, hard look at whether or not you own your things or they own you.
Indie horror director Matt Winn takes this trope to its logical conclusion in his just-released straight-to-video number The Hoarder, and adds an entirely logical wrinkle. What if somebody was storing away not just old dishes and unwanted Christmas gifts, but people?
His titular hoarder, then, is not so much a serial killer as he is a serial collector, but that does not mean that he is not piling up a copious number of victims, only that he is keeping them alive, whether they like it or not. And given that he is stapling their mouths shut and keeping them in a massive, hermetically-sealed storage unit where they are locked in iron cells and fed with some kind of IV drip, my best guess is that death would come as a welcome relief to most, if not all, of them.
One of the nice things about this well-plotted little low-budgeter is how expertly Winn and his co-screenwriters, James Handel and Chris Denne, have spread out their story and character beats to achieve maximum bang for their buck. First, we meet our ostensible heroine, Ella (played by Mischa Barton), who suspects that her fiancee is concealing evidence of his fooling around in his mini-storage locker. Or so she claims, at any rate. Enlisting her petty-thief friend, Molly (Emily Atack) in her quest to uncover the truth, they gain access to the rental facility just minutes prior to closing time thanks to the entirely understandable “who gives a fuck?” attitude of the attendant on what passes for “duty” (Andrew Buckley), and soon find themselves locked in after hours with Vince (Robert Knepper), an off-duty homicide detective;, a homeless guy living out of his locker named Rashid (Richard Sumitro); Willow, (Valene Kane) a stereotypical space-case “new-ager”; and Ian (John Sackville) and Sarah (Charlotte Salt), a divorcing couple who are divvying up their stuff and generally at each other’s throats at all times.
They almost all got secrets, of course, and perhaps none are bigger than the one Ella is concealing herself, but when it turns out that they are quite clearly not alone by any stretch of the imagination, they all got to decide, to one degree or another, whether or not they are going to let their respective pasts drag down their chances of escape, or just forget it and get the hell out of there while they still have open mouths to scream from. It is a nifty premise, well-executed thanks to some taut and atmospheric direction on Winn’s part, that has the added weight of posing some truly worthwhile philosophical questions. In short, The Hoarder is both smart and suspenseful, a combination that is, sadly, all too rare these days.
A certain amount of good, old-fashioned suspension of disbelief is required here, of course: I have my doubts as to whether or not our collector could get away with this for any extended period of time, as well as how long anyone would stay alive after being subjected to his “modifications,” but whatever. When a film excels as much as this one does at creating an overall “vibe” of fear and dread, I am prepared to let certain gaps of logic (even sizable ones) slide. So take that, all you readers who feel like I am consistent “too tough” on things.
Other flaws are a little harder to forgive, such as the identity of the creep behind all this plot should be fairly obvious to anyone paying even a passing degree of attention and Barton’s acting is far too one-dimensional and wooden to carry as much of the load as she is asked to (although she would be great at commercial voice-over work and everyone else does anywhere from a right to a terrific job with their parts, particularly the always undervalued Knepper). Even they do not detract too much from an otherwise surprisingly high production that balances genuine character development with its well-timed shocks in a ratio as near to perfect as I have seen from the DTV ranks in quite some time.
In the spirit of full disclosure I feel compelled to point out here that RLJ Entertainment, who is handling this film’s DVD release, hooked me up with a free preview copy of the disc (the only extra on offer being a reasonably interesting “making-of” featurette), but this is actually a film I would pay to add to my ever-growing collection, as I have no doubt that I will enjoy watching it again every so often over the years. It is nothing like a modern-day horror classic, but it is better than 90% of the other scare flicks hitting so-called “home viewing platforms” these days and if you give it a go, I think you will be very glad that you did. I certainly do not foresee myself selling it off in a garage sale or sealing it away in a box for storage.