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 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.
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.
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.
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 / 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.
Shutter Island (2010): Review
Leonardo Dicaprio’s films rarely disappoint. It was interesting to see him flex different acting muscles in this psychological thriller Shutter Island alongside Mark Ruffalo and Michelle Williams. When I say that I was not expecting such a turn in the story, I mean that my jaw was pretty much on the floor the entire time. Without any further ado, let’s dive into its mastery, shall we?
A cliché setup done right
We have been here before a million times. A character stumbles into a scene to solve a mystery. Everyone is acting just the right amount of suspicion to make you wonder. Dicaprio’s Edward ‘Teddy’ travels to an extremely remote island where a woman goes missing from a psychiatric institution. He’s experiencing migraines and flashbacks to his murdered wife while receiving little to no help from the hospital staff.
Teddy soon suspects that the hospital is experimenting on patients which fuels his theories on what happened to the missing woman. Things take even more of a turn when his partner also disappears. Unsurprisingly, everyone insists Teddy came to the island alone. Feeling like he’s losing his mind, our protagonist finds out that this is exactly the case. He is a patient in the hospital and the entire investigation is an attempt to get him to understand the truth.
While the whole ‘it was all in your head’ trope has a bad rep for the fans of any genre, this film uses it masterfully. Watching it for the first time not knowing what to expect is obviously a shock and then watching it again, looking at all the clues that were the which you missed – that’s a treat on its own. After all, there’s nothing inherently wrong with using cliches if they are done the right way.
Things that go bump in our minds
A huge part of this movie’s storyline is Andrew’s inability to process the truth. The roots for it stretch far beyond the plot twist. Andrew is unable to acknowledge that his wife is mentally ill and believes that moving them to the countryside will fix everything. After she murders their children, he is further pushed into the world of delusion, convincing himself to be a hero because he couldn’t save his own family.
It’s interesting to note that in his delusion, Andrew is the one who set fire to their house. Is this a little sliver of his mind whispering the truth to him? Is it his subconscious villainizing himself out of contempt, searching for answers that are never going to come? Andrew’s psychiatrist pointed out that his moment of clarity has happened before, only to be undone quite quickly. Perhaps it was easier for Andrew to shut it off rather than live with the knowledge that he could’ve done something to prevent a terrible tragedy.
Shutter Island is a movie that provides both the entertainment value you would expect from a suspense thriller and a deeper layer of thought. Coated with a perfect atmosphere and amazing acting, it’s a piece that will definitely hold the test of time. (4.5 / 5)
Wheel of Time, Daughter of The Night
We’ve reached episode four of Wheel of Time, which means we’re halfway through the season. While it doesn’t seem like much has happened so far, this is the episode where things start heating up.
We begin this episode with a flashback. Ishamael is raising something dark and twisted. As we watch, it takes the shape of a woman.
More on that in a bit.
Meanwhile, Nynaeve is healing from her time in the arches. She is quiet and withdrawn. She’s also awkward and uncomfortable around Egwene now that she’s initiated and Egwene is not. Her new friendship with Elayne isn’t helping.
But the three girls come together when Liandrin tells Nynaeve that Perrin has been captured by the Seanchan.
However, Perrin is no longer in the clutches of the Seanchan. He was rescued by Elyas and a pack of beautiful wolves. Beautiful and deadly AF by the way. If you have any fear of dogs, this episode might not help that.
Elyas explains to Perrin that he is a Wolf Brother. This means that he can communicate with the wolves, and eventually will gain some of their abilities. While Perrin and Elyas don’t exactly get off on the right foot, he does find a fast friendship with one specific wolf. After a time, he introduces himself by showing Perrin an image of himself jumping up and down. From this, Perrin assumes his name is Hopper.
Finally, we return to Rand. He and Selene have been off in the mountains. They haven’t done much more than each other so far.
And that’s exactly what it appears they’re about to do when Moiraine bursts into the cottage and cuts Selene’s throat.
Rand is surprised and furious until Moiraine explains that the woman he knows as Selene is the Dark Friend Lanfear. With this shocking revelation, the two run off into the night.
It should be a surprise to no one that I loved the wolves in this episode. Hopper himself was worth an extra Cthulhu. But this is not just because dogs are cute. It’s also because the dog playing Hopper just does a great job.
On a more serious note, I loved how Nynaeve responded upon coming back to the real world. She isn’t okay.
And it’s a good thing that she isn’t. Too often in fiction we don’t see the fallout of emotional damage. Hell, we don’t usually see realistic fallout from physical damage.
But she is hurt by what she experienced. And you can tell. That’s realistic character building, and we don’t see that enough.
I also really appreciate the special effects in this episode. The first time we see Lanfear, she’s eerie. She’s frightening. Part of this is thanks to Natasha O’Keeffe, who does a great job. But the effects are what really sells this.
What didn’t work
If Wheel of Time has any fault, it’s that there is far too much sitting about and talking about things. In this case, there’s a lot of standing about and talking about things. Some of this was necessary, and some of it could have been done better. Honestly, there just has to be a better way to convey that characters are struggling.
This was most apparent with Rand and Selene/Lanfear. Honestly, anytime the two of them were on screen it was a great time for me to catch up on Instagram.
This might come as a surprise to anyone who hasn’t read the books, but Rand is supposed to be the main character. And here we are, four episodes into an eight-episode season, and so far all he’s done is mess about with his emo girlfriend!
That being said, the story is starting to pick up. With four episodes left, I can’t wait to see how far we go.
(3 / 5)
Elevator Game, a Film Review
Elevator Game (2023) is directed by Rebekah McKendry and is the first feature-length production of Fearworks.
Elevator Game (2023) is directed by Rebekah McKendry and is the first feature-length production of Fearworks. It adapts the supernatural myth and creepypasta of the same name while providing an original plot. This unrated Shudder exclusive stars Gino Anania, Samantha Halas, and Verity Marks. In full disclosure, I had the opportunity to interview Gino Anania and Stefan Brunner about the film.
Ryan seeks to find answers to his sister’s mysterious disappearance. To do this, he infiltrates a myth-busting web series that seems to have some ties to her final confirmed moments. Desperate to force a confrontation, he encourages them to play the elevator game. Unfortunately, there seems to be more truth to the myth than expected.
What I Like about Elevator Game & as an Adaptation
I am lucky to have additional insight into the development hell this movie overcame due to COVID. It’s commendable that the film manages to make it of that, even if it requires a lengthy delay of the film.
Usually, I provide a separate section for adaptation quality. However, the source material remains the ritual, which Elevator Game performs accurately. While the myth inspires many creepypastas, Elevator Game doesn’t directly take or adapt any of these works from what I’ve seen. Instead, it makes its own film based on the legend.
As the Fifth Floor Woman, Samantha Halas creates an eerie and disturbing character. While I won’t go so far as to say terrifying, she certainly makes an impression. The revelation that the stunts and performance are all her, as an actual contortionist, I give her more credit.
Gino Anania, given a more complex role than most of his cast members, really does bring a strong performance that creates either friction or synergy with his cast members. I suppose I wanted more of these interactions as some cut sooner than appreciated.
Another amusing element is that the entire motivation for the plot to follow is a forced advertisement from an investor. Something about the chaos being a product of appeasing some investors feels uncomfortably real.
The alternate reality remains surprisingly effective. To be clear, it’s not impressively realistic but stylistic. It genuinely seems like an alternate world with a skewered impression.
Tired Tropes or Trigger Warning
I feel weird mentioning this, but endangering a sister’s life to push the brother’s story forward seems a common trend beyond one form of media.
No discredit to the actors, but the romance feels rushed and unnecessary. Without going into too much detail, to avoid spoilers, there is synergy between the actors but little chemistry in the plot.
What I Dislike or Considerations
Elevator Game remains set in providing a B-movie experience. Its tight budget leaves little room to surprise the viewer visually. While I am surprised at what it accomplishes, it’s far from overwhelming. This film also remains the first production of Fearworks, which shouldn’t surprise anyone. I’m interested in the future, but Elevator Game leaves much to grow from.
Rebekah McKendry may have a directorial style that influences dialogue, but the line delivery evokes an overexpression that’s common in Lovecraftian films. I say this not as a direct negative, but it remains a required taste best known before viewing. As this isn’t Lovecraftian, I fear it removes some of the reality and tension of those haunting elements.
Many of the characters feel underdeveloped, making me wonder if cutting these roles might lead to more invested characters. While the performances hit their marks, a tighter cast might give each role more to work toward. As this is a tight cast already, it seems an odd issue to rectify.
Elevator Game provides an interesting B-movie experience for those who know the legend. For those expecting something different, this film may not work for you. This film overcame a lot to exist but doesn’t break the mold. While I am excited to see Fearworks pursue further ventures toward its ambitious mission statement, I find Elevator Game falling short of its goal.
(2 / 5)