There are a few sequences of words that no writer ever imagines that he or she will have to type one day. For instance, “Donald Trump succeeds Barrack Obama as the next President of the United States” and “Bill Waterson’s first feature film, Dave Made a Maze, can only be described as a comedic retelling of Mark Danielewski’s terrifying House of Leaves,” are two equally absurd statements. Nevertheless, we somehow live in a world where both of these assertions are entirely true.
Dave Made a Maze stars Nick Thune as the titular Dave, a struggling artist that never seems to complete his projects. However, when his girlfriend Annie, played by Meera Rohit Kumbhani, leaves him to his own devices for the weekend, Dave constructs a physics-defying cardboard labyrinth in their living room. When Annie returns to find her boyfriend lost within his own booby-trapped maze, she, alongside a peculiar band of friends and acquaintances, embarks on a quest to rescue Dave before it’s too late.
From the nonchalant introduction to the deadly maze to the collection of quirky characters that show up to save Dave, it’s quite clear from the very beginning that this isn’t your average comedy experience. The clever writing, off-beat soundtrack and meticulously crafted cardboard sets and “creatures” make this one of the most original and entertaining films in recent memory, in spite of (or perhaps even due to) its shoestring budget.
The story itself isn’t all that deep, despite the obvious House of Leaves influences, especially considering how the reasoning behind the maze’s supernatural properties isn’t properly delved into. That being said, the characters are what make this journey worth the price of admission. Bumbling documentary crews, displaced homeless people and slacker friends make for an extremely interesting rescue party. Dave and Annie are also surprisingly compelling, as Nick and Meera have great chemistry together, and the script gives everyone a moment to shine.
Even with the obvious adventure movie vibe, Dave Made a Maze has some solid roots in the horror genre, with creepy cardboard puppet people and a monstrous minotaur creature stalking the characters as they delve deeper into the labyrinth. The film is also exceptionally gory in parts, but the use of red yarn and other household materials as substitutes for blood help make the deaths seem a lot more fun, rather than off-putting. The brief stop-motion and hand-puppet segments can also be quite eerie, though the film still retains that charming, adventurous atmosphere.
In the end, your enjoyment of Dave Made a Maze will depend on your compatibility with Waterson’s odd brand of humor. There aren’t that many laugh-out-loud gags present throughout the film, but there’s a perpetual sense of ridiculousness behind everything that happens to these characters. If you can appreciate that, like I most certainly did, then this movie has the potential to become a cult classic among horror and adventure movie fans alike. At the very least, you’ll think twice before messing around with cardboard in the near future.
Dave Made a Maze premiered at the Slamdance Film Festival on January 21st.