‘Dave Made a Maze’ offers more visual treats than narrative dead ends
Directed by: Bill Watterson
Written by: Steven Sears and Bill Watterson
Starring: Nick Thune, Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Adam Busch, Kirsten Vangsness, Stephanie Allynne, and James Urbaniak
“Dave Made a Maze” – After a long weekend away, Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) walks into her apartment and finds a massive cardboard box creation sitting in the middle of her living room. Immediately, she discovers that her boyfriend, Dave (Nick Thune), has taken up residence in this thing for three days and will not leave it, because he’s lost.
If this premise sounds crazy, just imagine the thoughts swirling around in Annie’s head.
“Dave Made a Maze” is a heady, wonderfully crazy idea that captures the imagination with its visual surprises, and the catalyst of the on-screen mischief is, of course, Dave. Dave - in a moment of inspiration - decided to craft a cardboard fort/fortress/maze that resembles a creation from the mind of a random preteen boy. His fort, however, is laced with intricate alchemy that one would not nearly expect from a 9-year-old kid, and from the outside looking in, it is an impressive work from a man with way too much time on his hands and who clearly owns a case of untreated arrested development.
The vast and “unarrested” development from inside the maze, however, resembles a dangerous funhouse, and Annie and others ignore Dave’s warnings and enter the fragile labyrinth to rescue their missing hero.
From a pure creative perspective, director Bill Watterson constructs a truly mindboggling world, as Annie and Dave’s friends – Gordon (Adam Busch), Harry (James Urbaniak), Leonard (Scott Krinsky), Jane (Kirsten Vangsness), and others - carefully step into passageways and around corners fabricated by brown, corrugated paper with 10-foot high ceilings. During their bizarre journey, the film reveals many wonders, and after each nifty visual, one cannot even guess the next cinematic bombshell that will appear next. (Additionally, how long did Watterson and his crew actually take to build the maze itself?) I will not reveal the phenomena from within their catacombs, but Watterson and writer Steven Sears do pull some inspiration from “Star Wars” (1977), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), “The Evil Dead” (1981), and “Jurassic Park” (1993) in some carefully designed spots.
As enjoyable as this twisted world of make-believe is, the film was not nearly as industrious with its script. Even though the picture runs a scant 76 minutes, the story feels like it struggles to even fill its very short runtime or give the large supporting cast enough to do. Ironically, it burns way too many calories with Harry’s story. He is a reporter – or perhaps a wannabe reporter – and the picture devotes so much of its screen time with Harry and his two colleagues (who man his camera and sound mike) interviewing Annie and the rest for some cockamamie news story or documentary. Watterson and Sears feature – what seems like – one third of the picture on Harry’s movie within a movie, as he repeatedly directs Annie, Dave and Gordon to express more emotion or show their feelings in a specific way for his camera. Rather than advancing the story within the cardboard caves, Harry’s amateur film project just stalls it.
Furthermore, Watterson and Sears miss a golden opportunity to show some of the footage that Harry’s cameraman (Scott Narver) shot. With this three-person crew sucking up so much oxygen in filming their documentary, it would have been nice to at least see some glances of it during the end credits.
Certainly Dave deserves credit for building his maze, but he has trouble expressing himself in front of both Watterson’s and Harry’s cameras. This is on purpose, because Dave possesses mountains of creativity but is void of the personal tools needed to hone his craft. Dave never finishes what he starts, and in turn, he does not necessarily inspire as a lead protagonist.
For example, when Harry asks Dave why he started the maze, he responds, “I built the maze, because I wanted to make something.”
As vague and insipid as Dave’s aforementioned statement is, the film smartly does not reveal his magical, artistic secrets, and hence Dave leaves the audience with designed gaps in comprehending his sleight of hand.
How did he do it, and how did the maze adopt a kooky life of its own?
Dave cannot even explain the mystery, but there is no ambiguity with the film’s originality and entertainment values. Even though Dave cannot verbalize his creative mind, there is no doubt that Dave, Watterson and Sears can proudly tout their highly imaginative creation. At the end of the day, “Dave Made a Maze” bears more cinematic gifts than narrative dead ends and delivers a unique experience that is worth getting lost for 76 minutes.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.