Hot off the festival circuit and coming to theaters and VOD on August 18, Dave Made A Maze is a surprise indie delight that delves deeper than its initial impression. As a directorial debut by Bill Watterson, it is an imaginative and oddly profound story of a man struggling to break through his own arrested development.
As the title implies, Dave, a twenty-something fellow, played by Nick Thune, builds a maze out of cardboard in his living room. When his hard-working girlfriend, Annie comes home from a work trip, she finds Dave buried in his creation, refusing to come out. With gentle insistence, the amazingly patient Annie, played by Meera Rohit Kumbhani, tries to coach Dave to come out of the maze. Dave insists that he is lost inside and that “it’s bigger than it looks.” Flabbergasted, Annie recruits the help of his closest friends, and word quickly gets out that Dave is having a rather entertaining mental hiccup. A large group of curious friends gather to see the spectacle, including an opportunistic documentarian with this cameraman and sound technician. It becomes an entertaining novelty to revel in Dave’s quirky crisis, and soon the apartment fills with stereotypical personalities of modern day young adults.
As the crowd troubleshoots Dave’s situation, Annie decides to act. She gears up with a box cutter and steps into the maze, with the curious gang in tow. They discover that the maze is truly a huge and perilous labyrinth filled with boobie traps and a life of its own. As the group ventures, deeper through the tunnels of the maze, the audience is treated to a quirky and imaginative spin on the coming-of-age genre.
Dave is a somewhat despicable person. He’s selfish, lazy, and uninspired. He has done nothing of purpose or significance, despite the myriad of opportunities available. Dave represents the sad reality of those who, despite living in a situation of abundance, choose to waste their lives. His only redeeming quality is that he doesn’t want to be this person, and the maze becomes a vehicle of self-improvement. It represents his struggle to break free from his perpetual adolescence and the malaise of a life without meaning. Unfortunately for his friends, the maze is not a safe place to explore and the movie becomes a delightful survival adventure once the gang steps inside. This is another facet that makes this film stand out. Even through the film offers many of the same beats as a survival horror flick, it carries none of the angst or terror. Instead the atmosphere is full of creative whimsy in place of malice, even though the stakes are high.
The set design is mostly to blame for the wonderfully creative feel of the film. It’s a DIY craft project on steroids, full of beautifully made set pieces and charming optical illusions. The maze itself becomes a character in the story with theatrical arthouse flair. The wonderful set design stole several scenes for me, and I’d like to watch the film again just to admire each room of the maze a bit more. The origami birds were particularly endearing despite their simplicity. The set is truly magic.
This film falls firmly into existentialist theater-of-the-absurd with a good dose of meta. It’s not an easy genre to pull off and many films that try, end up a mess. Dave Made A Maze smashes it out of the water and part of me thinks it lends to the fact that the film does keep to the traditional three act structure. If it leaned just a touch further into the abstract, it might not have worked. As it stands there are a few scenes that dangle right on that edge of too weird, and almost lose the audience. Gratefully, Watterson and his team do an outstanding job of keeping the film grounded, and those uncomfortable moments iron themselves out. Oh, and the documentary crew are hilarious. They create the meta feel to the film and some of the best chuckles from the movie.
Artsy but fun, this is a film for those who like a healthy dose of imagination in their cinema. Silly and playful, with a deep undercurrent of message, Dave Made A Maze is truly a pleasure to experience. Available in theaters and on VOD on August 18th, it’s worth a viewing or two.
Thanks for reading,
The Diva Del Mar