There’s something refreshing about sitting in a cinema and not knowing what it is you’re about to watch. A minute or two before the lights dimmed, we were told the title of what we were watching – Dave Made a Maze – and that was it. The film opens with a man apologizing for what is to come, and then the animated title sequence runs.
Look, I’ll get this out of the way from the get go. I didn’t love Dave Made a Maze. However, there is something truly unique and energetic about what goes on within the film that is truly undeniable. Pure imagination is something to behold, and when it’s captured on film like it is here, well, it’s great to watch. I say this because for a certain group of cinemagoers, Dave Made a Maze is going to scratch that cult-cinema itch that has been running ever since Michel Gondry’s last film came out. To throw out my one summation worthy sentence – Dave Made a Maze is a film that’s absolutely perfect for the ‘the floor is lava’ crowd.
So, if you feel that you slot into that group of people, stop reading, don’t walk – run, go see Dave Made a Maze right away. For everyone else, I’ll try keep this as spoiler free as possible.
Director Bill Watterson attempts to pull from the same imagination well that namesake comic-writer drew from when telling the many different adventures of Calvin & Hobbes, and for the most part, he succeeds. Titular Dave (Nick Thune) has reached a point in his life (thirty something) where he’s never achieved anything, and having been left alone for a weekend by his girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) like a much loved cat, he decides to finally accomplish ‘something’. That something is a seemingly living room sized cardboard ‘maze’.
Annie returns home, she sees that the front door handle is still broken (another unaccomplished task) and is equally disappointed when she recognises that all Dave has done over the weekend is build a cardboard fort. After Annie asks Dave to come out, it becomes apparent that Dave is well and truly trapped in his creation. His responses warning her not to come in carry an echo, and for some very strange reason, smoke comes from vents in the roof.
Annie calls up one of Dave’s close friends Gordon (Adam Busch), who in turn invites every other related friend along – including a documentary film team (lead by Difficult People’s James Urbaniak), a homeless man and a pair of Flemish tourists. Each character that arrives is straight out the ‘How to Be a Hipster’ handbook, and are as much of a caricature as you’d expect. Every joke you’d expect about hipster documentary filmmakers appears here (although, the white balance humour never got old), and it feels as if almost every character has a pinterest page emblazoned with the motto ‘live life to the max’ or ‘you’re the best you there will ever be’.
Initially, these characters feel like they’re going to be a chore to spend eighty minutes with (although, not knowing what film I was watching also meant that I had no idea how long it was), but before too long the real star of the film takes hold – the production design. Trisha Gum and John Sumner alongside Jeff White and many, many other hard working members of the art department have created a truly stunning ‘how did they do that’ level of set design.
Drawing from the nostalgia of Jim Henson’s Labyrinth and the daunting creativity of Vincenzo Natali’s Cube, Dave Made a Maze is still very unique film. Intricate cardboard layered rooms that seemingly go on for ever, help create a feeling that this is a world that has been dragged straight from Dave’s mind. Where Calvin would leap with verve into his Transmogrifier to see what adventures lie ahead, Dave has created this maze as a way of retreating into himself. He’s reached a point in his life where he realises that he has essentially done nothing on his own volition, and while he’s too young to have a midlife crisis, there is still the insurmountable pressure of the ‘real world’ pushing down on him that has caused him to create such a dangerous world.
With that in mind, it’s a shame that Dave Made a Maze leans into joy and excitement, rather than question what it means to be a hipster in modern society. What happens when your parents will no longer support you, and in turn you create a dangerous maze that claims the lives of your friends? My bitterness is showing here, and I’m asking the film to do something it never intended to do, so with that in mind, let’s backtrack to why Dave Made a Maze is a film that is still needs to be seen.
For every average character, there is a new immersive cardboard room that threatens their lives. And when characters die, they die in truly hilarious, inventive ways. If anything, the deaths in this film have secured Dave Made a Maze’s cult film future. One room that is covered with seemingly endless packs of playing cards is really impressive.
So, while Dave Made a Maze didn’t manage to turn me from being a cynical, cranky anti-fun bastard, I can recognise that there is an audience out there for this film, and when that audience finds it – oh boy, they will love it. This is Bill Watterson’s directorial debut after having starred in many shorts, films and TV works; hopefully this is just the beginning of a very creative directorial career.
Dave Made a Maze screens at Perth’s Revelation Film Festival on the following dates (click links to buy tickets):
Director: Bill Watterson
Cast: Meera Rohit Kumbhani, Adam Busch, Nick Thune
Writers: Stevens Sears, Bill Watterson