When Annie returns home from a weekend away at work, she discovers that her slacker boyfriend Dave has constructed a cardboard maze in their living room and is somehow trapped inside. Ignoring his protestations to not follow him, she ventures inside alongside an assorted group of their friends, only to discover its inside is a vast cardboard labyrinth riddled with dangers that must be traversed if any of them want it make it out alive.
The very concept of Dave Made a Maze is completely ridiculous, and it’s by fully embracing this absurdity that its appeal shines bright. It’s structured like a horror film, featuring a sprawling warren of rooms laden with elaborate traps and origami monsters, but the action is filtered through a childlike innocence that leaves it appearing whimsical rather than scary.
Despite the film’s potentially farcical nature, it’s played completely straight and so allows the inherent comedy to come through on its own, becoming all the funnier as a result. Even though the tone is light-hearted the dangers facing the group are still very real, and it takes a decapitation and an impaling for the reality of what they’re up against to hit home. In keeping with the DIY craftwork of the maze’s construction, instead of full-on gore people’s bodies bleed yarn and silly string, while explosions of confetti take the place of arterial geysers.
The discussion of exactly how the maze came to be is briefly touched upon but swiftly abandoned, since from a narrative perspective it doesn’t really matter, and for the characters such knowledge won’t help them navigate it. By a labyrinth’s very nature the progression through it is disjointed and non-linear, and you get the feeling that the script was assembled using a list of ideas from which the best were selected and a story then weaved around them. Each successive room brings with it a new surreal irrationality, be it everyone spontaneously transforming into hand puppets, or visual perspective and the laws of physics being playfully messed with in a manner reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland, a comparison augmented throughout much of the film by a recurring motif of playing cards.
As well as the boundless creativity of the maze itself, the heart of the story is the relationship between Dave and Annie. While it’s in no way an unusual setup for a beautiful professional to have her life hamstrung by an immature boyfriend, it’s made clear that the pair genuinely love and want the best for each other. Rather than Annie becoming angry at Dave’s lack of direction being a problem for her, she is instead frustrated with him wasting his potential and wants him to figure his way out of his directionless rut because doing so will make him happier. In this way the maze acts a metaphor for Dave’s frustrated ambitions and stunted adult development, and only by figuring out how to push through it will he ever be free.
Funny, charming and utterly compelling, Dave Made a Maze is a lo-fi piece of inventive genius proving that with enough imagination and ingenuity even the smallest of budgets can be transformed into something special.
DAVE MADE A MAZE / CERT: TBA / DIRECTOR: BILL WATTERSON / SCREENPLAY: BILL WATTERSON, STEVEN SEARS / STARRING: NICK THUNE, MEERA ROHIT KUMBHANI, ADAM BUSCH, JAMES URBANIAK / RELEASE DATE: TBA