Can a film without a plot to speak of still be compelling? In the case of Meander, a claustrophobic tricks and traps film, the answer is a qualified yes. A woman grieving the loss of her daughter is abducted and stuffed into a ductwork maze sprinkled with an escalating parade of devilish traps. That is pretty much the entirety of what you need to know, but if you take a simple idea and execute it well. it is worth watching.
It’s a tight squeeze for Gaia Weiss in Meander (2020)
Clautrophobes beware! The little French film Meander (2020) takes a lot of cues from the cult favorite film Cube (1997). The trope is nearly identical. People awaken in a tightly confined space with no recollection of how they ended up in their predicament, only knowing that they need to get out before their newfound environment kills them. Essentially you have a human Habitrail but loaded with things that want to slice, impale, burn, or drown you. Hamsters have it so much easier.
And despite the threadbare plot of Cube, by comparison, Meander manages to one-up the simplicity of the plot by having a nearly dialogue-free film. Lisa (Gaia Weiss, Vikings) is a distraught woman, grieving the loss of her nine-year-old daughter Nina. In the opening moments of the film, Lisa suicidally lays herself down on a rural road, but when a car finally approaches she abandons that grim plan and instead accepts a ride from the driver of the truck that nearly struck her.
While making small talk with the truck driver, the news flash comes out that there is a serial killer on the loose, and wouldn’t you know it, she just got a ride from that guy. Once she recognizes what kind of trouble she’s in, he jams on the breaks and it’s lights out.
When Lisa comes to, she is stuck in a sheet metal box with glowing lights dappling the space. Leading out is a closed iris door, and curiously, she has been clothed in a lycra athletic jumpsuit and is now carrying a glowing ring gauntlet that has been secured to her right arm. Did the truck driver do this to her? Is she being watched? Can anyone hear her pleas for help?
The iris door opens, and a gauntlet of deadly traps awaits her as she crawls out into the twisty duct-like maze, as the glowing band on her arm starts issuing ominous count-down timers. She finds new resolve for her life and rather than rolling over for the maze to do her in, she soldiers through and shows toughness and resiliency that indicates that she really does have a zest for life.
This is a movie that is all about tension and drama and functions almost completely as a single straight-line story with a very flat arc. Lisa meanders through the maze and is confronted with an obstacle that she works through, and then is subsequently confronted with another deadlier obstacle. This is a survival horror film, and the trail of the bodies of those who failed before her is a reminder of the consequences.
The maze might be considered a metaphor for the trials of life that Lisa had to overcome, and that by finally dealing with her core pain of the loss of a child, can she be free. But the antagonists never reveal themselves, nor provide much of a motive. Lisa does get a chance to consult her fate with the one being who would have any real interest, her deceased daughter Nina, who gets conjured up as the big maguffin in the third act which gives some weight and resolution to the proceedings.
Meander is an interesting film, and it looks great, with the maze lighting up with colorful lights, and the traps are pretty intense. I suspect, like The Cube, that they were able to re-use a lot of the sets and repurpose them. The movie is always surging forward and only takes a break when Lisa is pushed past the point of exhaustion. It is entertaining, and it has just enough intellectual aha moments to reward the viewers. Weiss does a fine job as the reluctant action hero, but the character is barely two-dimensional. You can empathize with her, but you barely get to know much about her other than she is brave and clever.
I would have liked something more about the antagonists though. Who are they, and what is their motivation? In the end, it’s not what the movie was about, but it would have been good to get more than the skeleton outline of them. Even though the 90 minutes run time seems to move by pretty quickly, there are aspects of the movie that were trying to pad the run time, as this sometimes feels like an extended short film, stretched to the borders of what it could handle. There are redundancies and the overuse of a rogue monster could have been edited down… or it could have been contextualized better.
This is Mathieu Turi’s sophomore effort, with his debut coming with the post-apocalyptic film Hostile (2017). He came up through the ranks, having served as assistant director for major studio films like Lucy, Inglorious Basterds, and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. Interestingly, his forte was as a crowd management director for large shots with lots of extras. It is ironic then, that Meander is essentially a one-woman show. Stylistically, Turi shows some real chops, and his pedigree suggests that he has plenty of great connections, so it will be interesting to see what he has coming up next.
This is one of those movies that kept popping up on my Amazon Prime recommended films, and if you have Amazon Prime, it’s free. If you enjoy tricks and traps movies, it’s solid, if not exactly enlightening. Meander is not rated, but it would easily be rated R for some pretty sloppy gory corpse moments and violence.