Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 09/04/17 11:06:01

"Not a featured exhibit, but worth seeing on the tour."
3 stars (Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Museum" is the sort of serial-killer story that has a lot of good bits, including the gruesome ones, and I wonder if it would have been served better if it had been developed as a screenplay first, rather than a serialized manga. After a while, the need to have a new cliffhanger every twenty-five decompressed pages rears its head, and the twists build up, and what started out as a nifty thriller about elaborately gruesome murders has gotten downright weird and drifted far from what grabbed the viewer's attention in the first place.

When the first case rears its head - a woman tied up and allowed to be eaten by starved dogs - detective Hisashi Sawamura (Shun Oguri) and his partner Nishino (Shuhei Nomura) start following the usual sort of leads, although the fact that she was found with a note indicating punishment makes Sawamura nervous; the veteran detective knows that that sort of thing usually indicates the work of a serial killer. Sure enough, another body turns up with a similar note, and Nishino soon uncovers the connection: Both were jurors for the "Girl in Resin" case three years ago, but there doesn't seem to be anyone who would be inclined to take revenge on the six jurors and three judges. More immediately pressing is that the jurors included Sawamura's wife Haruka (Machiko Ono) - who has just taken their son Shouta and left the workaholic after years of neglect, naturally without leaving a forwarding address.

As nasty a serial-killer story as that is already, it will get even nuttier, suddenly involving weird mutations, extended torture, and even more astonishing psychological torment than the audience has already allowed for (which was kind of a lot). It's a fairly severe shift for a movie that had not entirely been about the chase but still had the thrill of something new discoveries and an unsettled situation to keep things exciting; the answers it provides are twisted enough to match the questions, but once that's done, the movie keeps going, fairly quickly getting into a rut where the audience isn't so much eagerly or nervously awaiting what happens next, but just dreading the confirmation that the situation is what it looks like and wondering how much more unpleasant the next scene will be compared to the previous. The film hadn't been cheerful to that point, but it becomes a real grind.

It's too bad, because before it boils over into truly gratuitous excess, Museum is impressive. It hits a nice spot at the intersection of polished and gritty, giving the filmmakers room to do surprising, unlikely things while still keeping them grounded enough for conventional things to feel dangerous and the friction between Hisashi and Haruka doesn't quite seem trivial. There's nice attention to detail, even when dealing with characters at the edges of the story, and some impressively nasty kills that director Keishi Ohtomo lingers on just long enough. He captures the nifty feeling of the detectives doing their best to handle a crisis as the story hits its stride, and a wonderfully twisted logic to the killer's actions.

To that end, Shun Oguri is a fine anti-hero; even before the case becomes personal, he makes a good jump from "capable and dedicated cop" to "guy who probably always overdoes it", and still has a couple even higher levels of intensity to which he can dial things up and still have it work. Satoshi Tsumabuki an entertaining villain even when hidden behind a just-unsettling enough frog mask; he's able to come off as a genuine sadistic weirdo beyond the screwy costume, and while he's maybe not quite so perfectly strange once we see his face, he's still plenty threatening.

The whole movie is quite close to being very good, though not quite there. Maybe if screenwriter Izumi Takahashi and Ohtomo had let the middle breathe (where new murders practically happen one on top of the other) and compacted the last act a bit, it would be worth the inevitable comparisons to "Seven"; unfortunately, it winds up peaking just a bit too early.

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