“I wanted to make something,” the disembodied voice of Dave explains to Annie upon her return to their apartment. Thirty years old and dependent upon his parents, she has patiently supported her unemployed boyfriend through his projects, none of which have come to fruition, but this is something else, an elaborate cardboard construction which dominates their front room. In her absence over the weekend, Dave made a maze.
It’s not just an ordinary maze, however. Venting steam and emitting a TARDIS-like hum, Dave explains his refusal to leave it is because it is bigger on the inside, much bigger… and he got lost. Dave made a maze, and he got lost in it, and Annie wants to come in and help, but Dave doesn’t want her to come in: is it because he’s too proud, or because it really is a labyrinth in there?
Given no choice, Annie summons aid, first just Gordon and his beard, then Gordon calls the rest of the gang, indifferent Leonard, excitable Jane, Brynn, Greg, documentary filmmaker Harry and his crew, two Flemish tourists who don’t understand a word of what is going on and a random hobo who they recruit in hopes he will have an understanding of the worlds of cardboard.
Part exploration, part rescue mission, what is first a glorious revelation of the world within reveals a more sinister side with traps both obvious and subtle and creatures which are at first glance cute but conceal a menace, origami cranes perched like waiting pterodactyls, the maze itself shifting around them in order to keep them prisoner.
The directorial debut of former actor Bill Watterson from a script co-written with Steven Sears, the deceptively simple premise of Dave Made a Maze contains wonders within, ingenious lo-fi sets of paper craftsmanship which play with perspective and confound expectation, a children’s game of make-believe for grown-ups where inanimate objects are imbued with personality, sometimes playful, sometimes malevolent.
With cartoon logic and unexpected puppets it is a very different kind of haunted house, the maze and the audience’s expectation evolving if not mutating as the film progresses, what starts as whimsical rapidly becomes dangerous; had they the benefits of a classical education they might have taken a ball of yarn with them, but who could have predicted that a cardboard labyrinth would contain an equally handcrafted Minotaur?
Starring Nick Thune as Dave, a man whose lack of direction sees him becoming literally lost in a monstrosity of his own creation, Meera Rohit Kumbhani is the patient and resourceful Annie, prepared to take whatever action is required, unaware that the maze will not take kindly to her attempts at internal remodelling.
Is this a metaphor for modern life, the frustration of a generation seeking meaning, for relationships, for artistic endeavour, for mental illness, for trying to help someone with mental illness when they are lost beyond the reach of conventional rescue? It may be any or all, but above all it is a unique and hugely enjoyable oddity.
The design endlessly inventive considering the enforced limitations of the proposition, the Hall of Playing Cards and the Tunnel of Music are as mad as anything seen in Yellow Submarine, and there are reminders of Vincenzo Natali’s Cube and Mark Z Danielewski’s House of Leaves in the insanity which imprisons anyone who enters.
With a supporting cast including Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s Adam Busch, Criminal Minds‘ Kirsten Vangsness, Chuck‘s Scott Krinsky, Sound of My Voice‘s James Urbaniak and The Last Ship‘s John Hennigan, Dave Made a Maze recently had its Scottish premiere at the Dead by Dawn Horror Film Festival where it rightly picked up the Audience Award for Best Feature, the latest in a number of awards it has swept up across the international fantastic film festival circuit.