Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Palka’s touch is visible in the characters, who have a little more depth than is usual in such tales."

Did you know that 77% of all US households are in debt? The nature of that debt varies. A mortgage with manageable monthly payments is one thing, but these days – in the aftermath of the subprime lending and tuition fee scandals, amongst other things – an increasing number of people have debts which are out of control. This can place them at the mercy or mercenary collectors all too happy to bend the law and use whatever intimidatory tactics are necessary to recover the money.

Given how widespread this is, it’s surprising how little attention it has received in cinema. Tanya Wexler explored it in 2019 with Buffaloed but there has been remarkably little else. Like that film, Collection has a debt collector as its protagonist – in this case Alex Pettyfer’s Brandon – but it puts more emphasis directly on the victims of this highly competitive, exploitative industry.

Brandon is part of a small team of collectors and early on in the film we see him induct a newcomer, young Sean (Jacques Colimon) after watching with admiration as the kid hustles money out of his dad. Otherwise hard-nosed, Brandon seems to have a soft spot for youngsters, perhaps because he had a son of his own whose death he is still grieving. One suspect that this loss, and the need he feels to protect himself emotionally, is also behind his tendency to obsess about his work, to bury himself in it – until, that is, the night he meets Christina (Shakira Barrera), a prison widow who is scraping a living as a dancer as she raises her son.

Whilst Brandon’s team busy themselves pursuing a valuable package of debts in increasingly unscrupulous ways, he is increasingly AWOL, spending time with Christina, who seems to be helping him find his way back to healthier way of living. There’s just one problem: her husband’s shady dealings have left her with debts of her own. Will Brandon succumb to the temptation to betray her and take the money? If not, can he hope to protect her from his colleagues?

Although the overall form of this film is a familiar one, with a plot built on too many coincidences and thriller elements we’ve all seen before, Palka’s touch is visible in the characters, who have a little more depth than is usual in such tales. The women, so often sidelined, provide more than just love interest and help to give the film an emotional core which will resonate with viewers who have struggled with debt themselves. Christina's vulnerability is compounded by the fact that she’s a Nicaraguan immigrant, which means she’s living in fear or deportation and having her child taken away by ICE. Barrera’s performance is the highlight of the film and illustrates the widespread psychological damage done by the mistreatment of migrants.

Despite its structural problems, this is a solid little thriller which carries more weight because of its focus on characters who have limited power and a lot to lose. It also has some valuable lessons to teach by those who are themselves at risk of being preyed on by debt collectors.

Reviewed on: 18 Sep 2021
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A grieving father grapples with the seedy, manipulative world of high stakes debt collection while struggling to shed the tragedies of his past. He'll find himself pitted against his best friend, his prodigy and his love.

Director: Marianna Palka

Writer: Todd M Friedman

Starring: Alex Pettyfer, Shakira Barrera, Mike Vogel, Jacques Colimon

Year: 2021

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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