Thoughts on Dave Made a Maze (2017)

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the 2018 Golden Horse Fantastic Film Festival.

Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) comes home after a weekend business trip to find that her boyfriend, professional dabbler Dave (Nick Thune), has built a cardboard fort in the living room that for some reason emits steam. He says from somewhere that sounds far and deep that he’s lost and slightly hurt, refuses to allow his beloved fort to be torn down, and begs Annie for her own safety not to enter and get him. So she calls Dave’s friend, Gordon (Adam Busch), who calls their friend, amateur documentarian Harry (James Urbaniak playing a Colin Firth impersonator sans accent), who brings his sound and camera duo, who . . . and before you know it, there’s a “marvel at the predicament Dave got himself into” party. Unable to take it anymore, Annie enters the fort, followed by everyone else, and discovers that (as Dave kept saying) “It’s bigger on the inside.” Way bigger. In fact, it’s a labyrinth made of cardboard, fully equipped with death traps and even a minotaur. Welcome to Dave Made a Maze (2017).

This is a short film at barely over 80 minutes, but every scene inside the labyrinth is chock full of jokes. There’s the expected physical comedy, comedic irony, slapstick, sound gags, nerd culture allusions, and caricatures (especially a supremely deadpan Harry), but there’s also punning, wordplay, nifty camerawork, trick perspectives (including a riff on the famous scene from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)), visual innuendo, puppetry, surrealism, and even a grammar joke about whether the correct word in a certain sentence should be “is” or “are”—a legitimate question to ask, in fact. There’s also a plausible motivation to Dave’s actions, though for this film that’s just checking the boxes.

Most of all, there’s so—much—cardboard. Reportedly 30,000 square feet of it. And every inch is lovingly crafted to look homemade yet artistic, the true main character of the film. Dave Made a Maze is a rare gem, a veritable portfolio of jokes for writers Steven Sears (who came up with the story) and Bill Watterson (who also directed; not that Bill Watterson). This was the best film I saw all festival.

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