UK Release Date: 28th January 2019
Runtime: 81 minutes
Director: Bill Watterson
Writer: Bill Watterson, Steven Sears
Starring: Nick Thune, Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Adam Busch, James Urbaniak, Frank Caeti, Stephanie Allynne, John Hennigan
Synopsis: When the title character becomes lost in a cardboard maze he built, his friends discover all manner of supernatural threats on the inside.
Sometimes, the central conceit behind a movie is so deliciously weird that you can’t help but be intrigued by what it has to offer. That’s certainly the case with Dave Made a Maze, which does pretty much exactly what its title suggests. There’s a character called Dave – played by stand-up comedian Nick Thune – and he has made a maze in his living room from cardboard. The intrigue begins when the audience is told that this is far from just an ordinary construction. Much like the TARDIS, it’s bigger on the inside.
This is a movie that’s all about the ingenuity of the titular labyrinth, and it’s certainly an impressive feat of production design. There are piano key-inspired corridors, walls daubed with hundreds of playing cards and areas that are packed to the brim with inventive perspective tricks, like an episode of Changing Rooms hosted by Escher. Dave Made a Maze is a joy when it’s simply flexing the muscles of that design and showcasing its raucous imagination.
But that’s seldom the focus of the movie. In fact, writer-director Bill Watterson turns his eye on absurd, shouty comedy. Dave’s girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) and a group of friends journey into the maze to find Dave, but soon find themselves being stalked by a part-cardboard, part-monstrosity Minotaur (former WWE wrestler John Hennigan). What starts off as an intriguing idea very quickly devolves into characters running around screaming.
It doesn’t help that the movie seems to have only a fleeting notion of its own storytelling rules. Characters are killed in the story, with blood replaced by bright red silly string, but the stakes have evaporated entirely by the time it becomes clear that this is actual death rather than some sort of whimsical plot device. Those stakes are also diminished by the odd, flippant characters, who never seem to react in any remotely believable way to what’s happening. The exception is Kumbhani, who is far better than the movie she’s in.
On the one hand, it feels wrong to criticise a movie this silly for lacking logic and believability – it’s a fantasy about a living maze full of supernatural creatures, for goodness sake. However, a film as strange as Dave Made a Maze only works if the internal logic makes sense, not to mention the characters. This is a film that gets none of those elements right and even seems to be padding its way to an 80-minute running time. Perhaps that’s the proof needed to show that this should have been a short rather than a feature. It certainly would’ve been less exhausting.
The features here are actually more interesting than the film. There’s a commentary track and some deleted scenes, but the standout is a really fun behind the scenes documentary that goes into some detail on the sheer quantity of cardboard they had to find, as well as the very impressive artistry on show. It’s the highlight of the disc, by some distance.
Pop or Poop?
There were a lot of exciting elements at play in Dave Made a Maze, but the finished product is as fragile and flimsy as cardboard. Any potential for fun comedy and existential darkness is abandoned by a movie that’s more in love with pushing weirdness boundaries than in making the most of its excellent design.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
Dave Made a Maze is available on Blu-ray in the UK from Monday, courtesy of Arrow Films.