A Uniquely Brilliant Adventure
Dave (Nick Thune, Knocked Up) is a struggling artist who has never amounted to anything in the three decades he’s existed. While his girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani, The Mindy Project) is gone for the weekend, Dave builds a labyrinth in his living room composed of cardboard in an effort to construct something to completion for once. The only downside is that Dave gets lost in the impressively intricate composition that now takes up the majority of his apartment. The maze has become a creative death trap as Dave is worried that rescuers could fall victim to the many dangers lurking within his disposable contraption, but Annie, Dave’s best friend Gordon (Adam Busch, Leon: The Professional), and a documentary filmmaker named Leonard (James Urbankiak, The Venture Bros.) put their lives on the line to bring Dave back to the real world.
Dave Made a Maze is the feature film debut of writer/director Bill Watterson (unrelated to the creator of Calvin and Hobbes) and co-writer Steven Sears. The film, labeled as an adventure horror comedy, is incredibly basic in concept which leaves room for Dave Made a Maze to go completely balls-out in creativity throughout its very short yet entertaining 80-minute duration. Being an independent film, there’s certain idiosyncratic expectations since indie films tend to explore concepts major motion pictures funded by studio powerhouses only vaguely touch on or pass over altogether. Dave Made a Maze has no qualms with being an eccentric film and embraces peculiar visuals and radical ideas to the fullest.
If you’ve ever felt like you wasted your younger years or that life took you in a direction you weren’t prepared for, then you’ll find something in Dave to relate to over the course of the film. There’s a Motion City Soundtrack song called “Can’t Finish What You Started” from their album Even If It Kills Me that would have fit perfectly on the soundtrack for Dave Made a Maze. The song is about having the desire of pressing on in life, but wasting time and procrastinating instead because that unpredictable outcome is too scary to pursue. Dave has just reached his threshold and is at the stage after that where he’s actually doing something about it. Life has been taking a heavy metaphorical dump on Dave’s chest and it’s held him back for too long. The maze becomes a complex allegory for Dave’s journey back to control with every twist and turn representing a different obstacle in life that could get in the way of his goal.
The booby traps and unique rooms found within Dave’s maze are the bread and butter of Dave Made a Maze. The film plays with innovation and imagination in every room with aggressive origami birds attacking people, a giant head (that looks like Olmec from Legends of the Hidden Temple) that spews trash in an origami swamp, optical illusions, and jumbo-sized female genitalia composed entirely of cardboard. The R-rating gives Dave Made a Maze the opportunity to be as vulgar and violent as it wants, but the film chooses to represent gore as red yarn, multi-colored confetti, and pink silly string. Every room is unpredictable and The Minotaur chasing them only makes things more interesting.
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Visually the film combines several different types of animation including traditional and stop-motion for a look and feel that is basically unparalleled. The opening of the film looks like it was made utilizing how South Park was originally animated with construction paper, the end credits look to be hand-drawn or were possibly created in Adobe Flash, and stop-motion is used sporadically throughout the film like when Dave and Annie assemble the heart of the maze. The highlight is when the entire group, including The Minotaur, enters a room where they all become paper bag hand puppets. You could easily compare it to those old Fandango commercials or The Muppets, but it’s also reminiscent of that He Is Legend music video for “The Seduction.”
The cast of the film has some really intriguing additions. A personal favorite is James Urbaniak who voices Dr. Venture on The Venture Bros., but also included is Kirsten Vangsness of Criminal Minds fame (her “high-five!” sequence is incredible), Tim Nordwind who plays bass and sings vocals in a little band called OK Go, Rick Overton (Groundhog Day, Cloverfield), Scott Krinsky (The O.C., Chuck), Stephanie Allynne (In a World…, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates) and John Hennigan (former WWE Superstar John Morrison) as The Minotaur.
Dave Made a Maze is extremely straightforward when it comes to its storyline, but its identifiable execution and unbelievably awesome inventive nature makes Bill Watterson’s debut an adventurous quest with quirky humor that is well-worth diving into a life-threatening cardboard contraption. Dave Made a Maze is one of the most ingenious cinematic journeys worth venturing this year.
© 2017 Chris Sawin