#Manhole

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Manhole
"In the end, the film succeeds not so much because of its thriller elements as because it’s an interesting character piece." | Photo: Fantasia International Film Festival

It’s one of those great single-line pitches which really makes people sit up and pay attention: on the way home from his stag night, a man falls down a manhole and finds himself trapped. Think about it for a few minutes and you might become suspicious. Is there no way for him to climb out? Won’t people hear him as soon as the streets fill up again? Is this going to be one of those annoying films where he turns out to have forgotten his phone, the battery runs out or there’s no signal? Suffice to say that this film answers all those questions without resorting to any of the latter cheap tricks. It also plays some very effective tricks on the audience, so that by the end the feelings you had at the start could be completely reversed.

The man in question goes by the name of Shinsuke (Nakajima Yûto). We first meet him at the aforesaid stag party, thrown by his work colleagues, who generally seem to like him. He doesn’t seem all that drunk afterwards; he’s keen to get home so that he can be ready for his big day. Somewhere along the way it all goes wrong, however, and the next thing he knows he’s lying at the bottom of the hole with a nasty leg injury. The ladder above him is broken and all he can see through the opening is the night sky. A succession of problems present themselves. He’s cold. He’s in pain. It begins to rain. Then something starts to leak into the hold through a vent in one side.

Key to what happens is that he has his phone with him the whole time. At first he tries calling his friends, but no-one is awake. He checks the location on his phone and tries calling the city council, but the response isn’t promising – based on his limited description, the hole isn’t easy to find. He doesn’t want to involve the police – he’s already been accused of irresponsible drunkenness and one imagines that if he got stuck in questioning, trying to explain what happened, it might be difficult for him to make it to his wedding on time. He tries an ex-girlfriend and attempts to cajole the tired woman whom he has ignored for years into rescuing him. Then he hits upon the idea of trying to get help from strangers on the internet.

This is where the film really comes into its own. Shinsuke knows a few things about how to manipulate people online, and he’s not above doing so if it will get him help faster, but what he might not have fully understood is how quickly crowd responses can swing out of control. Soon conspiracy theories are developing as the mob looks for someone to blame. He reads things about himself which he would rather not know (and which give viewers fresh insights into his character). Some of the ideas which people following the situation have are inspired, and the talents which they are able to bring to bear are remarkable, but the emotional temperature continually increases. The filmmakers’ best trick is to put viewers in a similar situation – one which has a lingering effect even at the point where we should know better.

As a thriller, it’s not perfect. Some important threads are introduced very late in the game, like one of those Sherlock Holmes tales in which the great detective solves a crime not because of genius but because he has been privy to a piece of evidence not shared with the reader. The emotional denouement is more subtle, however, and pays off well. In the meantime, director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri does an impressive job of holding our attention despite the fact that (a few flashbacks notwithstanding) we spend almost all our time in the hole. One image in particular, as our hero faces a potentially fatal threat, will stay with you.

In the end, the film succeeds not so much because of its thriller elements as because it’s an interesting character piece. The initial assumption that life will go on just as planned once rescue is achieved gradually melts away as the trapped man is forced to reckon with himself and all the mistakes of his past. We may only see his fiancée through phone pictures, but we learn enough to properly appreciate the urgency of the situation, especially as he converses with friends. Passing through his initial frustration to despair, paranoia, terror and, eventually, something else, gives Nakajima a lot to work with. This is one manhole you won’t mind falling into.

#Manhole screened as part of the 2023 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Reviewed on: 01 Aug 2023
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A real estate worker who is about to marry his boss' daughter falls down a deep manhole and can't work out how to escape.

Director: Kazuyoshi Kumakiri

Writer: Michitaka Okada

Starring: Nakajima Yûto, Nao, Nagayama Kento

Year: 2023

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: Japan


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