Manhole (2014)

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Directed by Shin Jae-young

Starring Jung Kyung-ho, Jung yu-mi, and Kim Sae-ron

“Go straight home, don’t worry about me!”

Words: Desmond Childs, with minor spoilers

The premise of this film is actually one I found intriguing; but for some reason by the end I felt like something was lacking. A serial killer who operates from underground essentially would totally have access to a large number of potential victims. He would probably be savvy enough to rig the surveillance system and lighting to work in his favor as well. I could have done without the ‘tramatic’ experience; i.e. family perished in a fire that father fueled with gasoline because he was…stressed at work? I dunno. Everything about the premise and villain of this film was on point.

My biggest problems with Manhole definietly stem from the police force and even the general public at large. South Korea’s known for it’s horror/thriller genre; and the fact that there always seems to be an incompetent representative of the police force (if not the police themselves). My question is why? I understand the tropes that come with this particular type of film–but it should not excuse the continued use of these worn, tiresome tropes. A police captain who doesn’t believe members of his team, simply because he doesn’t really seem to like them is not only unprofessional; it’s unbelievable. I had a lot of trouble believing that something as nefarious as a sewer dwelling predator could exist in the same world with a police force as sloppy, incompetent, and dull as the one portayed in this picture. They were in two different movies–heck, two different universes. And when the two different tones/dynamics mix down in the sewer it becomes something even more unrecognizable than it already was. At one point, there are over 4-5 individuals down in this sewer who are trying to figure out, “what’s going on” in addition to the killer and his dozens of victims. It’s so bizarre. Is this man that clever, or are the cops that stupid? We never really get a definitive answer either–as the movie quickly sends the climax over the side of a metaphorical cliff (flames and all).

Not only does the ending put a tragic spin on something it tried to put a happier ending on was also strange. And so when we do get the ‘tear-jerking’, ‘that’s that’s not fair’ moment–it feels tacked on because I guess this movie needed to fully let me down? Again, I don’t really know. Honestly, this movie showcases two things clearly about the state of the genre in South Korea:

  1. There is a formula for horror/thriller films
  2. This movie would have done better to break away from that expectation, at least a little, to tell a compelling, more coherent story.

But the film isn’t a bad one by any stretch. The issue stems from the mediocre execution and middle of the road; luke-warm representation this movie gives off. And for a thriller that ain’t all that great, but too well put together to be ‘So bad, it’s good’–there’s a little something I like to call film purgatory. Manhole is exactly the kind of film that fits squarely on a shelf, within film purgatory.

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