Returning home from a trip, Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) finds the entrance to a maze made of cardboard in her living room. It’s been constructed by her boyfriend Dave (Nick Thune) and he’s lost inside. Bringing together a group of their friends, Annie heads inside to rescue him.
It’s a simple and offbeat setup, and really taken and run with by first time writer/director Bill Watterson. The maze (or labyrinth) is completely handcrafted from cardboard, so has a wonderful tactility and imagination to it, and the production and set design departments deserve well-earned applause. As well as live action, the film throws in stop motion animation and puppetry, keeping things barrelling along. Think Michel Gondry, the Mighty Boosh and the little seen and vastly overlooked Bunny and the Bull by Paddington director Paul King. It’s like the greatest adventure you imagined as a child. A gleeful homage to the fantasy adventure films of the 80’s. Pair this with jokes that come thick and fast, including dark deaths rendered entertainingly absurd by liberal use of silly string and red ribbon, and you’ve got one of the most enjoyable films you’ll see this year.
The characters are all a lot of fun and a real pleasure to spend time with. They don’t chew the cardboard scenery, keeping the film grounded so the absurdity of their setting can flourish around them. Even with all the inventiveness going on, Dave Made A Maze doesn’t forget to have a heart. Dave is in his early thirties and frustrated with treading water in his life. Known for starting things and never completing them, the maze is the first thing he actually could finish. Supported by Annie and his friends, they help him better come to terms with who he is while pushing him to do what’s right. It’s these characters that make Dave Made A Maze more than just a well-constructed curiosity.
Released by Arrow Video, this edition of Dave Made A Maze has enough extras to pass but feels like it could have gone further. The biggest draw, especially for a film like this, is the Making Of, which gives us an interesting inside look at the long production of the film, from its Kickstarter beginning to festival appearances. But with a film as painstakingly handmade and inventive as this, you really feel like there would be much more to dive into when it comes to the production design than what you’re given. It’s interesting enough but feels like a of a bit missed chance.
Dave Made A Maze is destined for cult classic status. It’s packed full of imagination, fun, humour and pure entertainment. One of the most enjoyable and original films you’ll see this year.
DAVE MADE A MAZE / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: BILL WATTERSON / SCREENPLAY: STEVEN SEARS / STARRING: MEERA ROHIT KUMBHANI, NICK THUNE, ADAM BUSCH / RELEASE DATE: 28TH JANUARY