Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pulling off a movie set almost entirely in one location with the majority of scenes focusing on a single character is no easy feat. Japanese import #Manhole somehow accomplishes the impossible, trapping its lead character at the bottom of a sleazy tunnel teeming with dead animal foam, icky cobwebs, and a decaying ladder. Director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri squeezes tension from Michitaka Okada’s atmospheric script. With an eye on the dangers of trending social media mania, #Manhole is survival horror meets demented character study.

Tomorrow, the big day has finally arrived—Shunsuke (Auto Nakajima) will wed Sayuri, the daughter of his company’s CEO. In celebration of the monumental occasion, Shunsuke’s office coworkers throw him a big surprise party. After drinking a bit too much, Shunsuke wanders down an empty street… and falls deep down into an open manhole. For the first act anyway, #Manhole puts us in the headspace of Shunsuke, similar to films such as Buried, 10 Cloverfield Lane, and 127 Hours. Nearly everyone in his contacts will not answer, the cops do not seem to take the situation seriously, the jagged leftovers of a ladder collapse on his weight, and a bad leg wound leaves Shunsuke partially incapacitated. As the desperation of his situation begins to sink in, Shunsuke turns to an unexpected solution: social media.

Shunsuke’s possession of a cell phone for the entirety immediately sets #Manhole apart from similar films. Instead of being stranded with only his thoughts to accompany him, Shunsuke creates a Pecker account (an obvious Twitter stand-in) under the guise of ‘Manhole Girl.’ Catfishing a captive audience in order to get rescued, Shunsuke’s motivations are questionable indeed, but not entirely incorrect. The Internet at large would surely take more of a note to address a female in distress, trapped down a manhole, rather than a male. Something about hearing a subject is “trending on Pecker” just comes across as weirdly hilarious.

Can an ex-girlfriend help Shunsuke escape his claustrophobic confines? How about crazed Pecker fanatics that turn Manhole Girl’s case into a viral sensation? Shunsuke will do whatever it takes to be found, and get home in time to still make his morning wedding. Stylistically, #Manhole has a lot to offer apart from its drab and dingy location. Director Kazuyoshi Kumakiri keeps the audience invested in the action at large in flashes of text and phone conversations. An excellent callback to the slicker-wearing Fisherman of I Know What You Did Last Summer will have genre fans squealing in delight.

#Manhole is far more than meets the eye. As Shunsuke’s story evolves from a simple scenario to a more complicated, horror-tinged one, so too does the film itself become greater than the sum of its parts. A late twist recontextualizes everything we have learned as an audience, and holds up a mirror in a manner that many will never suspect. Whether you have come for a harrowing thriller or a gripping drama, #Manhole flips an intriguing concept on its head faster than you can say “congratulations!”

#Manhole screened at 2023’s Fantasia International Film Festival.

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