“Why do you always have to make things so hard?” an exasperated Annie asks Dave. At this point in Dave Made A Maze (2017) the group are running away from a minotaur, transformed into paper bags, and ducking out of range of swinging, barbed pendulums. Dave (Nick Thune) created the maze because he wanted to build something. It’s the reason he gives during his interview at the start of the movie and for a good while after we don’t see him again in person. We meet him confronting what he’s done — and the resulting lives lost to his booby traps — before he disappears again.
Disappears is the wrong word. Dave transforms. The animated title section doesn’t boast any murder confessions but, for anyone pursuing a creative profession, it’s no less confrontational. What every writer and artist doesn’t want to say, because they’re beating themselves up for it every hour, is put into song with The Equals‘ “Diversion.” Animated Dave has a very professional chalkboard list of the tasks he’s going to complete while his girlfriend, Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani), is away. The time is blocked, he’s standing in front of his keyboard, but no music comes. Fixing the doorknob is another chore knocked off his agenda (and onto the floor) when Annie returns and he hasn’t gotten to it. People can enter the apartment without the doorknob but it’s a symbolic boundary between Dave and the rest of the world.
It’s also a sound precursor to Dave’s voice, echoing from the bowels of a cardboard box tunnel, telling Annie not to enter his labyrinth because it could be dangerous. We can hear Dave but it’s Annie who we see. There are numerous ways a person could react to a passion project taking over their living space but Kumbhani gives Annie an entrenched tiredness that is light years away from the nagging girlfriend who stunts her boyfriend’s imagination. Annie isn’t the enemy at all. She’s not impatient, or quick to anger and, as tired as she is from her trip, and what can’t be the first time she’s come home to origami birds strewn over the floor, she keeps talking to Dave without immediately discounting what he’s saying, or his wishes, when they don’t make sense. This maze has gotten away from Dave, as mazes are wont to do, but with an entrance clearly labeled “Enter”, somebody’s going to walk in.
Before that fateful moment, a crowd builds up. Annie calls Dave’s friend, Gordan (Adam Busch, channeling Richard Dreyfuss’ beard in Jaws (1975)). Gordan calls Leonard (Scott Krinsky). Who calls Harry (James Urbaniak) and the Flemish tourists (Drew Knigga and Kamilla Alnes) is anybody’s guess but Dave’s cries for crowd control go left unheeded. Annie announces she’s going in and some of the others race in ahead of her.
A recycled line from Doctor Who (“It’s bigger on the inside”) gives way to a magical world of recycled products and adventure film homages. There must be a special well of inventiveness reserved for directors who give prominence to practical effects because Bill Watterson’s Dave Made A Maze has the same wonder locked onto by Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986). One room sports a Trash Heap-like figure from Henson’s television series Fraggle Rock (1983-1987), spewing out tissue paper, when the door slides down behind the group and a jump scare attacks the camera guy. Henry is a documentary maker so, along with being generous with his tips on how they can act better, his team are filming their efforts to survive.
Dave Made A Maze has psychology (Dave on the maze: “It’s me! Well, I’m not trying to kill anyone”), a musical score by the Mondo Boys, crazy amounts of comedy, and a few casualties that comply to the directs of paper and cardboard. Dave is adamant that the answer to getting out isn’t destroying the maze but finishing it. With sets this resourceful, put the x-acto knives away.
Dave Made A Maze was screened at this year’s Boston Underground Film Festival (22 to 26 March 2017).