‘#Manhole’ is Bloody, Weird, And Sensational [Fantasia 2023]


Help. Is anyone there? I’ve fallen in a hole and I can’t get out. Director Kumakiri Kazuyoshi’s #Manhole, which is having its Canadian premiere at this year’s Fantasia Festival, is the simple yarn of a salesman, Shunsuke (Nakajima Yuto), and his plummet into a poorly placed, uncovered manhole. A gnarly gash on his leg and a broken ladder render him trapped, indicative of the likes of Kim Seong-hun’s Tunnel or Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. Presumptively, #Manhole is going to be a somber foray into the existential roots of loneliness and desperation, the folly of modern connection in times of genuine need. It’s anything but. This is a midnight genre offering of the highest level, an incredulously conceived and bombastic whodunnit whose violent zealotry probes deeper than any sewer system.

Shunsuke’s unconscious stumble occurs immediately following a surprise office party celebrating his forthcoming wedding, forthcoming as in happening the very next day. Drunken antics and a solo walk home result in the consequential fall, though unconventionally, Shunsuke’s phone remains in-tact. More than that, he has plenty of battery and access to the outside world. Early attempts to escape prove unsuccessful as Shunsuke grapples with both his injury and the manhole’s almost personified antagonism. There’s no easy answer.

The twists pile up early. No one answers Shunsuke, and he is reticent to contact the police. His singular lifeline is ostensibly ex-girlfriend Mai (Nao), a caustic presence on the other side of the phone, a woman both hostile and sympathetic to Shunsuke’s plight. Both Mai and the local police are incapable of tracking him down, and high concept antics skyrocket when Shunsuke opens a fake social media account, doctoring the photo of a Japanese pop star to assume the identity of “Manhole Girl,” a damsel in distress. Won’t someone help this poor girl out?

Merging the style and fluidity of screen life thrillers like this year’s Missing with the introspective grit and savagery of Takashi Miike’s Audition (yes, really), #Manhole’s laurels are mercurial and perversely compelling. A mash-up of genre motivations, the white knight chronicles online—every basement dweller wants to save Manhole Girl—are uproariously funny, and the threads of whodunnit mystery, namely the supposition that someone has drugged and dropped Shunsuke into this hole, are raucously seen through and resolved. Once opened, the social media hole cannot be closed, however, and online fervor reaches a boiling point of influencers, doxing, and live-tubers hitching their wagon to Shunsuke’s ordeal.

 #Manhole engages in keeping the audience as claustrophobic and cut off as its protagonist. Social media remains the sole window into the outside world and the converging parties endeavoring to track Shunsuke down. Survival thriller props are peripheral misdirects. The sewer runoff or risk of gangrene poses little risk when rivaled against the savagery of a digital society where appearance outweighs integrity.

Melodramatic third-act twists elevate #Manhole to sensational grindhouse levels. It’s a bonafide crowd-pleaser, not unlike last year’s Orphan: First Kill, a movie whose innate sense of constraint (e.g. how would an Orphan prequel even work) instead cultivates a kitchen-sink affair of bloodshed and true-crime mania. A sterling example of J-horror camp where anything goes, #Manhole may not probe the psyche, though its genre-based thrills succeed in their audacity. A survival thriller for the digital age, #Manhole is worth falling into.

  • #Manhole


#Manhole is uncompromising in its twisted, violent aspirations. Brazenly unpredictable, it’s one of the best survival thrillers in years.

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