#Manhole Traps You in The Suspense [Fantasia Review]

#Manhole still of Shunsuke (Yûto Nakajima) holding onto a ladder in a hole.

#Manhole, playing at Fantasia Festival, reminds me of the horror short Curve, where there’s looming, inescapable dread. Though trapped in a maintenance hole, Shunsuke Kawamura’s (Yûto Nakajima) situation takes a backseat to the look into his character. As the story unfolds, there’s more to the utility hole and Shunsuke. His facade of civility and gentility cracks. #Manhole masterfully keeps the tension and questions swirling as you watch, to the point that you don’t realize you’re watching a man trapped in a hole for the whole runtime.

Directed by Kazuyoshi Kimakiri and written by Michitaka Okada, the film starts innocuously. Someone’s recording a surprise party. Colleagues extend well wishes to the camera for Shunsuke’s looming wedding to the CEO’s daughter. Then Shunsuke arrives, and the celebrations continue. After the party ends, he briefly talks with a friend and coworker, Kase (Kento Nagayama), who gives him a present and then leaves. Drunk, Shunsuke staggers around before falling into a hole. 

#Manhole Keeps You Guessing

At first, Shunsuke’s fall seems like a harmless accident. But then things occur that make no sense unless something else is afoot. Like Shunsuke, you keep asking who is responsible. But, unlike Shunsuke, you want to know about Shunsuke’s past. Does he deserve to be in the hole? That’s the question most viewers will ask. In particular as they watch Shunsuke take to social media and incites people on Pecker (that name instead of Twitter kept me laughing) to find him but also identify his abductor. Throughout #Manhole, I moved between jealous lover, haunting, judgment day, a la the British film Tales From the Crypt style. Some clues drop, but not enough to know the details until the end. 

Lead Ensures Tension Remains High

For most of the film, the viewers only see Shunsuke. Yûto Nakajima plays the role with charisma. You watch, strategize with him, and question his choices. Though not the same as far as content, this film and Yûto’s engrossing performance remind me of Hard Candy with Elliot Page and Patrick Wilson or 12 Angry Men. It’s challenging for films that rely on dialogue with little action to build tension are challenging, yet Yûto Nakajima pulls it off with ease. 

#Manhole still of Shunsuke (Yûto Nakajima) holding onto a ladder in a hole.
#Manhole still. Fantasia Festival.

Kazuyoshi Kimakiri’s direction helps keep the dread taut. The close-ups of Shunsuke’s replies, where you see a different expression other than fear and stress, raise suspicion. But you can’t put your finger on the issue. Plus, there are levels to bad, and does being a jerk deserve this karmic suffering—scummy man, scummy hole? The setting is unsavory and looks dingy, dirty and infectious. 

Social Media Is Both Hero and Villain

Shunsuke’s use of Pecker highlights the rabid nature of social media once a post spreads. There are pile-ons, trolls, and people who take their threats from the internet to real life. Yet it can also backfire. Using social media and technology created a tense atmosphere because anyone who knows social media knows that asking for help is as likely to be met with ridicule as support. Additionally, online support can quickly flip. #Manhole‘s use of social media reminds me of the Kisaragi Station urban legend that started with someone posting on a site for help. 

#Manhole has hints of the paranormal, but the tension and danger come from people, both online and off. The performance of the lead is magnificent, and I’d watch this film repeatedly, possibly at night, because the sound at the end is beyond creepy. With thrills and dread building to a crescendo, #Manhole crafts a movie that is both memorable and admirable. 

*This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist. 

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