Studio: Gravitas Ventures
Director: Bill Watterson
Writer: Steven Sears, Bill Watterson
Producer: John Charles Meyer, John Chuldenko
Stars: Nick Thune, Meera Rohit Kumbhani, James Urbaniak, Stephanie Allyne, Kirsten Vangsness, Scott Krinsky, Frank Caeti, Rick Overton, Adam Busch
A group of friends becomes lost in an impossibly large labyrinth when one of them builds a cardboard maze in his living room.
Annie just returned from a trip to find her living room overtaken by a cardboard fort seemingly constructed by an enterprising 12-year-old. The architect is actually her adult boyfriend Dave, someone who struggles with never finishing anything he sets out to do. From beneath the duct-taped assembly of delivery boxes, Dave welcomes Annie home with a proclamation that he is lost inside his own creation and with a warning that no one else should enter.
Annie’s exasperated expression says she is used to childish nonsense from Dave. With a roll of her eyes, she is ready to topple over the tiny towers and slap Dave for his stupidity.
Like Dr. Who’s TARDIS, Dave assures Annie his labyrinth is much bigger on the inside than it appears on the outside. What’s more, he insists it must not be destroyed. Dave’s maze is close to completion. He simply can’t stand to see one more project fall by the wayside, even if it has taken on a mind of its own.
Instead, Dave asks Annie to summon his friend Gordon for help. Gordon can barely believe his incredulous eyes. So naturally he invites his filmmaking friend Harry, a few other pals, even two Flemish tourists and a hobo found on the street to take a gander at Dave’s unusual predicament.
Annie has seen enough. With a box cutter in hand, she is going inside to pull Dave out and stop entertaining his insanity. Acting as a reluctant Pied Piper, Annie leads a trail of misfits into the maze only to find that Dave wasn’t kidding at all. Somehow he built an enormously intricate labyrinth out of craft paper and imagination, and now everyone is trapped inside of it. To escape, they’ll have to face booby traps, attacking origami birds, and Dave’s fear of failure in hulking Minotaur form.
Imagine Charlie Kaufman being tuned closer to whimsically weird than darkly dour and you can picture the kind of mind conjuring “Dave Made a Maze.” Co-writer/director Bill Watterson, not the cartoonist creator of “Calvin and Hobbes” yet just as comically sharp, taps into those same wells of human despair and optimistic hilarity for a uniquely creative expression of personal frustration visualized as endearing entertainment. Literally by way of its production, and figuratively in terms of its title character, “Dave Made a Maze” shows how far an artist can take ambition using imagination.
Watterson’s world is mildly wild as a place where the impossible is obviously possible. Yet he keeps his story from floating too far away with its fantasy through quirkily relatable characters who are amiable and amusing.
Most of “Dave Made a Maze” is populated by schlubby jeans and t-shirt types with hipster hairstyles or other accoutrements of mumblecore thirtysomethings. Were this an outright genre horror film, Dave would have been played by Chase Williamson. Nick Thune is still precisely on point as a likable loser just trying to get out of his own way. Meera Rohit Kumbhani meets Thune’s average Everyman embodiment by mixing sympathetic sighing with “oh, for Pete’s sake” resiliency to personify a put-upon girlfriend perpetually putting up with Dave’s problems.
As armchair documentarian Harry, James Urbaniak nearly runs away with the movie without even trying. His natural presence slides slyly into the movie’s muted moods of subversive satire and adult adventure. Urbaniak’s understated attitude is the barometer by which “Dave Made a Maze” often calibrates its blended tones of dry humor and wry commentary.
The tandem team of Trisha Gum and John Sumner then takes the collective vision to an entirely new plane by making “Dave Made a Maze” an absolute triumph of indie filmmaking production design. Even when crafted from cardboard, sets never seem simple, and certainly never look cheap. Papier-mâché tiki totems, odd traps built from Dixie cups, and silly string standing in for blood sprays are some of the innovative ways “Dave Made a Maze” makes the most out of an FX budget putting a lot of cash into confetti, paper clips, and colored yarn.
There seems to be some sort of moral to the movie’s story about not being afraid to put yourself out there and risk destruction, otherwise you’ll never accomplish anything at all. Though the fact that I used “seems” in that sentence tells me I might not fully grasp whatever deeper tale “Dave Made a Maze” has to tell.
Truthfully, it doesn’t matter whether any intended messages make it to you or not. “Dave Made a Maze” is so imaginative, intelligent, inventive, even inspirational that it is certain to put a smirk on your face, if not a brightly beaming ear-to-ear grin. Whichever expression you wear, be ready for it to last from the first five minutes until well after end credits conclude.
Review Score: 80