Dave Made A Maze (Movie Review)

Dave Made A Maze (Movie Review)
6 10

PLOT: Dave (Nick Thune), a struggling artist with the inability to complete a project, builds a large fantastical fort in his living room in order to help confront his own shortcomings.

REVIEW: After a decade spent as a bit player in short films, TV series and even a few features, actor-cum-director Bill Watterson has focused his creative attention behind the camera for the first time via DAVE MADE A MAZE - a weird and whimsical, partly annoying, partly admirable, drolly ingenious DYI art project that more or less defies description. With a plucky no-budget amateurism that at times borders the energy of community-theater production, it’s hard to assail a movie this openly and outwardly offbeat, especially since, underneath it all, rests a keenly observed millennial malaise of feeling inertly unable to gain any traction in the creative world. Again, difficult to define, but as a filmed low-tech multimedia art project of an actual art project, Waller and his co-writer Steven Sears have crafted a pretty inventive calling-card curio that demands our attention on what they do next. First, go get lost in the MAZE!

Dave (Nick Thune) is a struggling artist whose major cross to bear is finishing a project. He seems incapable of doing so. Or uninspired to get there. When his girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) comes home to their apartment one day, she finds a large labyrinthine fort built out of cardboard boxes resting in the middle of the living room. As soon as we see the fort, we know it isn’t normal. It shakes, quakes, belches smoke, seems alive, and as Dave barks out from inside, is far bigger than it looks from the exterior. Annie is repulsed, calls Dave’s main man Gordon (Adam Busch) to come talk to him, but soon, Annie and Gordon and a few other pals brave going inside the maze to locate Dave and bring him out safely. Metaphorically, this quest is one to help Dave overcome his own personal insecurities, indulgences, deep-seeded fears, creative paralyses and the like. Problem is, these inner existential quibbles do not come without hefty consequences.

Inside the impossibly humongous fort – made practically and impressively by the production team using 30,000 square feet of cardboard – a host of harrowing pratfalls, booby-traps, creatures, conjurings and oddball obstacles must be overcome. What stands out here is the hands-on multimedia blitzkrieg of FX employed throughout - including puppets, stop motion animation, confetti, origami cutouts and the like. Each time the group enters a new room, it’s invariably accompanied by a whole new set design, piece of music, fearsome foe and conflict modality. This keeps the keeps the action freshly varied, offering new surprises along the way. And while this is far from an out-and-out horror flick, much more in the vein of an absurdist comedy, Dave’s friends begin falling victim, one by one, to the inescapable trappings of the maze. Again, as allegory, these set-pieces are meant to illustrate what in Dave is “killing” the ones he cares for. In the end, his self discovery is the key to salvation.

What I dug most about DAVE MADE A MAZE is just how ingenious the entire design is – from conception to construction - and given its micro-moneyed production, how well executed it all becomes in the end. Watterson and company took the lack of finances and turned it into an absolute asset rather than a glaring liability. The whole production is wonderfully imaginative and colorfully realized, imbued with a childlike playfulness that’s sure to have you waxing nostalgic. I also quite dug the selection of eclectic musical cuts, unashamed to say the opening track “Diversion” by the Equals has remained in my head for two weeks or so. This movie has memorable moments.

Yet, while this achievement is commendable, and certainly admirable, it also becomes a bit annoying after awhile. Like any offbeat comedy full of quirks, the sensibility can overstay its welcome at times. There comes a point when it all becomes too precious, too cute, too contrived to remain consistently enjoyable. DAVE MADE A MAZE flirts with this quality a time or two and pushes it to the brink of obnoxiousness. And honestly, at only 80 minutes, the movie plays long, amounting in the end to little more than a stretched-out, glorified student short film. A novel one, sure, but it’s one that functions more of a promissory calling card for Watterson’s filmmaking future rather than a standalone accomplishment meant to withstand the annals of time. After all, even the best homemade movie ever is still, ultimately, a homemade movie.

All aspects considered, I’m gladder than mad I saw DAVE MADE A MAZE, and am even more agog to see what Watterson and Sears do next. While both amusing and bemusing at times, there’s an undeniable DYI spirit of underdog independence to the movies whimsical absurdism that goes a long way, and for the most part, it remains entertaining. A few dull spots, a few worn thin quirks aside, DAVE MADE A MAZE is an off-key curiosity worth checking out!  (The film hits VOD and theaters on AUGUST 18th.)

Extra Tidbit: Per IMDB, the studio (the film was shot in) had only enough space for two rooms of the maze to be built at any one time. While one was being filmed the other would be built for the next scene to be shot. According to the producer, the average lifespan of a room was four hours.
Source: AITH



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