How would you describe a movie about a guy who builds a maze out of cardboard in the living room of his apartment, and the maze takes on a life of its own, expanding out of control while he and his friends are trapped inside?
Oh, and there’s a Minotaur. Of course there’s a Minotaur.
“Weird” is one word for it, and it certainly applies.
But so does “creative,” “inventive,” “compelling” and, finally, “good.” “Dave Made a Maze” is all of those things, a one-of-a-kind movie from director and co-writer Bill Watterson.
The story starts out simply enough. Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) returns from a trip to the apartment she shares with her boyfriend, Dave (Nick Thune). We know from a quick intro that he’s something of a slacker, and that he’s troubled by this and by how he’s tried to change it.
He’s built a maze. Or a labyrinth, if you like. In the living room. Out of cardboard. And now he is lost inside it.
Or so he tells Annie, who is understandably dubious and a little worried. But he won’t come out and won’t let her or anyone else come in — for their own safety, he says. Remember, the whole thing fits in the living room. And yet there is steam coming from the cardboard grates, and he sounds kind of far away, and …
No. This is madness, right? Annie calls their friend Gordon (Adam Busch), who is sort of annoying in his bro-centric call-and-response friendship with Dave. But he doesn’t have much of an explanation, either. And Dave is still lost inside.
Soon a crowd arrives, including Harry (James Urbaniak), who is sort of the nightmare version of a documentary filmmaker, both in how seriously he takes the job at the expense of all else and in how he … coaxes responses out of his subjects.
It’s all gloriously goofy, but Dave is still trapped inside, and he continues to insist that it’s too dangerous for anyone to come in and rescue him.
On the other hand, THE MAZE IS IN THE LIVING ROOM. Finally Annie decides she’s going in. And so does everyone else.
And the charmingly offbeat turns seriously strange and then veers into the absurd — in a good way. For the audience, anyway. For the rescuers, not so much. Turns out Dave wasn’t kidding about the danger. Though even potentially graphic scenes are rendered as an acid-trip version of reality — yarn and Silly String stand in for blood and gore.
Oh, and the cardboard, the glorious cardboard — 30,000 square feet of it, reportedly. Once they’re inside the maze everything is rendered in cardboard, except for at one point when the characters turn into paper bags. (I can’t explain, not because I don’t want to spoil anything, but because there is no explanation. That may seem like a narrative shortcoming, but at this point you’re either in or you’re out, and I was in completely.)
Panic sets in, as one might expect. Underlying everything is Dave’s reasoning for building such a dangerous contraption in the first place (dangerous even before it seemingly took on a life of its own and began adding more rooms, nooks and booby traps).
That’s where Harry comes in, in an annoying interview that nevertheless allows Dave (and Watterson) to explain things a bit. Dave has what one might call a completion problem, an inability to finish what he starts. The maze represents for him a chance to actually get something done. And it got out of hand. It’s as simple, and as complicated, as that.
If you’re looking for what it all means beyond that, man, you can probably keep looking. This is a burst of creativity that seems like a sort of low-rent version of “Synecdoche, New York,” a fever dream of a movie and one of my all-time favorites. If you’re looking for something different – and mean it when you say so — “Dave Made a Maze” is a joy.
By Bill Goodykoontz, USA TODAY Network
Gravitas Ventures presents a film directed by Bill Watterson and written by Watterson and Steven Sears. No MPAA rating. Running time: 80 minutes. Now showing at Facets Cinematheque and on demand.