Think of your favorite movie, your least favorite, and every film in between. Every single one of them was a nightmare to make and a miracle to finish. Good, bad, doesn’t matter. Making movies is tough. Now picture a filmmaker crazy enough to double down on that challenge by choosing to make the process even more difficult with a single-location thriller. One location threatens to minimize the opportunity for set-pieces, visual style, varied characters, and momentum — you know, the very things that most thrillers tend to rely upon. Kazuyoshi Kumakiri is one of those crazy filmmakers, and he’s chosen this route for his nineteenth feature, #Manhole. You’ll never guess where it takes place…
Shunsuke (Yûto Nakajima) has a successful career, plenty of friends, and less than a day before he marries the CEO’s daughter. It’s a wonderful life, indeed, until one drunken misstep lands him through an open manhole cover and hobbled on the concrete below. With his leg hurt, the iron ladder rungs corroded and/or absent, and no one responding to his frantic, late-night screams to the open hole above, Shunsuke turns to his cell phone hoping to find a lifeline out into the world. The police are of little help, and his attempts at sharing his location fail miserably, so he resorts to the only option left — social media. Won’t someone please help poor #ManholeGirl?
#Manhole makes it clear from the start that Shunsuke is a good, fun-loving guy stuck in an unfortunate situation. He simply wants to get out of this hole and make it to his wedding on time, but he’s quick to manipulate goodwill — sexist goodwill, but still — for his own cause. The script by Michitaka Okada has more on its mind than one man’s survival starting with a playfully dark commentary on the lies we tell both ourselves and others. Our protagonist proves himself adept at it, but as the minutes tick by, the question becomes if it will be enough to save his life.
The path to that answer is a bit messy at times as both the film and Shunsuke work to find their footing. Assumptions are made and leaps are taken that tend to be more confusing than compelling, but as Shunsuke’s situation worsens and more information about how he landed there come to light, Nakajima and Okada steer their film into some wildly entertaining directions. Mean-spirited fun takes precedence over believability, and while it doesn’t quite rise to the ridiculous brilliance of Ping Lumpramploeng’s The Pool (2018) it’s still going to hold you to the very end.
While the filmmakers behind #Manhole, including cinematographer Yûta Tsukinaga, composer Takuma Watanabe, and others, work to craft a thriller that builds and maintains a momentum, none of it would work without Nakajima’s lead performance. Viewers can’t help but fall in with his situation — who among us hasn’t survived a drunken tumble or blacked out the night before? — as he cuts an empathetic figure in, quite literally, way over his head. His stress at missing his wedding and his incredulousness at his inability to get help are both relatable feelings, and we find ourselves cheering on his small victories and shaking our fists at his defeats.
Two more elements of the film demand both respect and appreciation. First and foremost, #Manhole might just be the only cell phone-dependent thriller where the phone never experiences reception issues nor low battery threats. It’s impressive as hell. And second? Shunsuke’s social media platform of choice is a Twitter clone called Pecker.
#Manhole isn’t as tight or consistent in its thrills as it needs to be, particularly in its first half, but its suspense beats and narrative twists are more than compelling enough in their creation and execution. The film’s not-so gentle ribbing of social media denizens, from true crime tourists to wannabe white knights, adds an additional layer of fun ensuring that every Pecker screenshot earns a chuckle or two. This is ultimately a good time, warts and all, and it’s absolutely to taste for fans of films like the aforementioned The Pool and Mariano Cohn’s 4×4 (2019) as we root for a flawed fool in a ridiculous but thrilling predicament.
Related Topics: Fantasia Film Festival