Directed by Bill Watterson
★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Dave made a Maze is a surreal pop performance art/horror comedy that uses confetti for blood and silly string for guts. Completely unique and very odd.
I saw that this film ran last year at Popcorn Frights, and the premise sounded so kooky that I had to give it a go. Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) has returned home to her apartment, only to find that her boyfriend Dave (Nick Thune) has trapped himself inside of a cardboard maze that he constructed in their living room. He has never completed a significant task in his life, and this is his pride and joy. The problem being, he filled it full of deadly traps and can’t figure how to get out of the puzzle he built around himself.
The maze, like a Tardis, is MUCH bigger on the inside, and it’s all made out of paper products. All of Dave and Annie’s friends, including their documentary creating friend Harry (James Urbaniak) and his film crew, come over to check out what kind of trouble Dave got himself into. Director Bill Watterson (And no, it’s not THAT Bill Watterson… though I thought it might have been) has created a virtual Wonderland out of re-purposed boxes. All the friends pile in, anxious to check out the crazy maze and rescue Dave, despite Dave’s repeated warnings that “It’s too dangerous!”
All is fun and games until the cardboard traps get sprung, and the poor victims get eviscerated, impaled, and sliced up… but the fun part is… they issue great gouts of red confetti and purple silly string instead of blood and viscera. There are segments of the movie where all the characters turn into lunch bag puppets! And, to top it off, a half-man half-cardboard bull stalks the maze looking to trap and kill the crew.
This is about as strange a concept as you will ever run into.
There are moments which are so nutty and playful that you can’t help but squeal with glee. But the film’s humor is all art-house absurdism, and some of the observations are a bit creaky and pedantic and I found that there were a lot of one-note performances among the cast. Annie, however, is a wonderful character. She is the wisdom that Dave may never have, and their relationship is central to the story. I hope to see Kumbhani in more movies in the future. She’s magnetic. Frank Caeti, who says almost nothing as the sound tech is also oddly mesmerizing. I doubt he was intended to be the featured player, but you always seemed to watch what he was doing.
Best of all, though is the art direction. Fun with forced perspectives. Fun with origami. Fun with layering cardboard any which way to create a trippy discount labyrinth.
If pressed, I would suggest that the closest thing I can relate to this film is St. Vincent’s bizarro “The Birthday Party” segment from XX. Or maybe Pee Wee’s Playhouse with a violent streak. The story has too many points where the movie beats you over the head with a plot point and doesn’t move off center quickly enough, but then you will be rewarded with a scene so fresh and different you forgive the slow spots.
This is not a movie for everybody. It definitely would appeal to the arthouse Sundance Film Festival fans, but probably not so much for your slasher film fan. But, you never know! This is one of those movies that will leave some people scratching their heads and others rewinding it immediately to see it again.