This week I am diving into Dave Made a Maze, a film I missed when it came out in 2017. I recently stumbled onto it while idly browsing Amazon Prime. So, I was curious. It is now a few years removed from the release, and not having heard anyone talk about it lately, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

So, it is clear from the title that Dave made a maze… but does it make for a good movie? Let’s dig in.

'Dave Made A Maze' (2017) theatrical poster

Dave Made a Maze

Release Date: August 18, 2017

Production: Butter Stories, Dave Made An LLC, Foton Pictures

Distributor: Gravitas Ventures

Run Time: 80 Minutes

Genre: Horror, Fantasy, Adventure, Comedy

Streaming On: Shudder, Amazon Prime, Peacock, Tubi, Crackle (and many more)

Dave Made a Maze is a 2017 horror fantasy adventure comedy directed by Bill Watterson (Hollywood Wasteland) and based on a screenplay written by Watterson and Steven Sears based on a story by Sears. The film follows the trouble that arises when an unsatisfied artist named Dave gets lost in his cardboard maze. His girlfriend Annie and their friends enter to rescue him only to discover the labyrinth is significantly more extensive and more complicated than it looks, and there are deadly traps within – including a mythical minotaur.

Dave Made a Maze stars Nick Thune (The Possession of Hannah Grace) as Dave, Meera Rohit Kumbhan (Weird Loners) as Annie, with Adam Busch (Altered Carbon), James Urbaniak (The Venture Brothers), and Stephanie Allynne (In a World…) as assorted friends pulled into the strange situation.

What Worked

The film is, above all else, a delightfully crafted film from a design sense. The cinematography highlights the textural elements of the movie down to all the cardboard set design and handcraft gore. The film has a wonderfully artistic quality, and it is delightful to witness the strange and otherworldly nature of the cardboard labyrinth. As far as set design goes, Dave Made a Maze can be charming.

As far as aesthetics go, Jon Boal’s cinematography is excellent in highlighting every seam and fold while keeping the cardboard environments equally claustrophobic and cavernous. David Egan’s editing is also tight. The soundtrack by Mondo Boys is also quite pleasant but has that mid-2010s indie sound.

The performances are good, particularly Meera Rohit Kumbhani and Nick Thune as the co-leads. The relationship between Annie and Dave unfolds in layers. One powerful scene features the two at a kitchen table going through a series of day-to-day conversations that reveal the malaise they each feel. Also of note is James Urbaniak as Harry, the filmmaker of the group. Harry is a fascinating character who seems callous and exploitative of the genuine danger of the maze. But in one pivotal scene, his ambition is stripped away, showing a vulnerability and anxiety not present elsewhere as he grapples with whether or not a friend is truly there or just a trick of the cardboard labyrinth.

Cardboard puppet Harry (James Urbaniak) keeps shooting in the labyrinth
One hilarious puppet sequence calls into question the film’s reality.

What Didn’t Work

The film has a few issues as fun as the film is to look at, given the quality of the performances. When it comes to the horrific elements, there are creepy and unusual visuals, but the comedic elements generally undercut them. The spray of yarn in place of blood is funny, but there is no real sense of urgency. The lack of urgency is compounded by the surprisingly low-key reactions of the characters to the insanity that surrounds them. Their initial reactions of shock, but the further into the labyrinth they go, the more desensitized they become to it all.

The surreality of the set is probably the film’s greatest achievement. Still, any feelings the setting should inspire in the characters beyond exasperation and confusion are mainly absent, making the whole film feel a little empty. I am not necessarily expecting emotional nuance in a movie about a cardboard maze that is larger than it appears. Yet, I hope the characters act more disturbed by the implications, especially with some of the lingering effects of the conclusion.

The film also establishes some gags using characters for brevity and comedy, but those characters disappear outright by the end. Several elements of the film remain unresolved by the end, and I wondered what exactly had happened. I’d instead have had those characters omitted than not gain a resolution to their presence in the story. The result makes the film’s emotional throughline run as hollow as a cardboard box.

Meera Rohit Kumbhani (Annie) and Nick Thune (Dave) craft for their vary lives within the cardboard maze
Dave and Annie discover that crafting can do essential things.

Final Impressions of Dave Made a Maze

Dave Made a Maze is a film that is entertaining but ultimately haphazard in execution. Characters are less developed personalities and rather gags or tools for the emotional throughline of the leads. Any answers about what the hell is going on are left unexplored to the degree that you may question, “why does this matter?”

Bill Watterson’s film is breezy, pretty funny, and looks like it takes a page from the canon of Michel Gondry but lacks stakes, which is ironic given the somewhat sizable body account the labyrinth racks up. Dave Made a Maze is worth a watch, but the ironic detachment leaves the whole project a little empty and artificial, which at least is in line with the cardboard sets.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

If you’ve seen Dave Made A Maze, please let me know your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to read your take.

About the Author

David Davis is a writer, cartoonist, and educator in Southern California with an M.A. in literature and writing studies.

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