Based on the 2013 manga, Museum: The Serial Killer is Laughing in the Rain, Keishi Otomo’s big budget adaptation brings the familiar story of the hardworking homicide detective whose personal life is in shambles. Detective Hisashi Sawamura may be hot on the trails of a frog-masked serial killer committing grisly crimes that would make David Fincher proud, but his neglected wife has fled their home and marriage with their young son in tow. The further Sawamura embroils himself in the case, the more personal it becomes.
Fans of gruesome serial killer cinema will find much to appreciate in Museum’s frog-masked killer. His victims suffer horribly elaborate deaths that brings Japan into the pantheon grim crime fiction like Saw or Se7en. The killer then stages the mutilated bodies, some to unrecognizable lengths, as his own form of art. Though most of the victims are murdered off screen, with only the gruesome aftermath revealed during the police investigation, Otomo sprinkles in tense sequences where the latest victim unwittingly finds themselves in a cat and mouse chase with their killer. Sawamura himself falls prey to the psychological mind games when the killer takes notice of the detective.
It’s a slick, well shot crime thriller that offers edgy car chases, gory deaths, an over-the-top psychotic villain with a unique disguise, and the persistent antihero destined to learn hard lessons. It also struggles to retain interest for the entire 132-minute run-time. While the visual style and acting are both polished and appealing, there’s a familiarity to the hardboiled detective story. The film also loses a lot of steam in the final act, where character backstories are introduced and thus slows the pacing to an almost crawl. The engaging and gruesome first half becomes forgotten as the playing field narrows in on an intimate showdown between detective and serial killer. The final opening for a sequel, wrapped in a tired moral warning, feels forced.
With cinematography by Hideo Yamamoto (Audition, The Grudge), there’s a delightful horror tinge to the tension filled first half. Dark, gritty, and rain soaked, Sawamura’s pursuit of the frog-masked killer is captivating. But as the film progresses Sawamura begins making exasperating choices, and Otomo explores his two leads far too much. Sometimes the boogeyman is scarier without a traumatic past, or simply not knowing anything about them at all. Otomo tries to retain audience interest by incorporating multiple twists, but viewers familiar with this type of sub-genre will be steps ahead.
Museum opens strong with a nail-biting noir horror film shot in style and with a suspenseful score. Everything that made the film work, though, is tossed out during the second half in favor of a tedious psychological battle between the protagonist and antagonist. As with most genre films, once the killer is unmasked most of the built-up tension deflates. For Museum, it deflates far too early and then limps slowly toward the finish line. For those who have never seen Se7en, or crime horror fiction of its kind, this would be worth a watch. For those who have, though, this offers nothing new.
Museum screened at the Fantasia International Film Festival on July 14, 2017.