Directed by: Bill Watterson, Starring: Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Nick Thune, Adam Busch, James Urbaniak. Comedy Horror, US 2017, 81mins, Cert 15.
Released on Blu-ray, Digital HD, and also premiering on Arrow Video Channel on Prime Video Channels 28th January 2019.
Charlie Kaufman meets Jim Henson courtesy of Doctor Who (except it would be churlish to complain about the cardboard sets) in director/co-producer Bill Watterson’s indie debut feature.
Returning from a trip, Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) opens the apartment door to find that her frustrated artist boyfriend Dave (Nick Thune) has constructed a cardboard fort in their living room – and he’s trapped inside it. Boasting TARDIS-like dimensions, the fort contains an extensive labyrinth maze of corridors laden with cardboard booby traps and a Minotaur. Annie, together with Dave’s best buddy, gamer nerd Gordon (Adam Busch), and a disparate collection of characters including a reality-TV film crew and a couple of Flemish tourists, ignore Dave’s warnings and enter the maze in a quest to rescue the architect.
This quirky art house film fest favourite is an a(MAZE)ing feat of production design ingenuity. And while it’s mostly populated with paper-thin characters delivering lines which occasionally fall flat(packed)(sorry), there’s still much to admire in the visual rendering of Dave’s cardboard prison. Employing a variety of old-school non-CGI techniques such as stop-motion, puppetry and in-camera forced perspective trickery, Dave’s maze boasts an impressive array of threats and creative conceits. Stop-motion origami creatures flutter around Dave and his ragtag band of liberators, while RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK-like traps are triggered by giggling anthropomorphic tripwires. (The resulting carnage is amusingly conveyed by red lace and silly squirty string). While sliding down a drain pipe to avoid pursuit by the Minotaur, Dave’s party are briefly transformed into hand puppets before having to duck and cover to avoid paper blow darts.
Dave (Nick Thune) delivers a couple of half-hearted attempts to rationalise what’s really going on here (a desire to actually complete something for once?) but frankly neither this nor Watterson and co-writer Steven Sears seem overly concerned to explain, if indeed they actually know themselves, and it’s left up to individual viewer interpretation to assemble anything remotely substantial.
Meera Rohit Kumbhani displays an unfathomable degree of patience as Dave’s long-suffering girlfriend Annie, while Adam Busch’s geeky Gordon gets to wear a t-shirt boasting an increasingly less pixelated version of himself on the chest as he completes each level of challenge in the labyrinth. (So at least someone gets a character arc). I did admire James Urbaniak’s unblinkingly focused mercenary TV director Harry, grinding out interviews and character reactions while seemingly oblivious to the surrealist paper and card nightmare unfolding around him.
Ultimately, DAVE MADE A MAZE is a film which can be enjoyed with a wry appreciative smile. The odd laugh out loud moment pokes through the holes in the script, and the level of artistry and detail in the construction of the sets could offer repeat viewings a degree of reward making this cardboard fantasy worth recycling.
Extras: A veritable Amazon-like delivery warehouse of features has been assembled for this release. The audio commentary with writer/director Bill Watterson and co-writer Steven Sears together with the making-of documentary chronicle the extraordinary lengths the designers and crew went to to get the film realised. A couple of deleted and alternate scenes are included along with ‘The Worst Fundraising Pitch Video Ever’ (in the end it wasn’t crowdfunded). There are storyboard and concept galleries, trailers, a reversible sleeve featuring two artwork choices and for the first pressing, an illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by author and critic Anton Bitel.
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