Dave Made a Maze is the story of a thirty-year-old starving artist who is sick of his own inability to finish anything, so he builds a giant maze out of cardboard boxes in his living room. When his girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Khumbani) comes home from a work trip to find the monstrosity in their apartment, she is annoyed. Dave (Nick Thune) won’t come out, claiming that the maze is a lot bigger on the inside, and he’s lost. He warns her not to enter, and requests that she call his best friend Gordon (Adam Busch) for help instead. She does, but she also invites the rest of their friends, some strangers, and a homeless man to come and party to try to lure him out. When it becomes clear that nothing is going to force him to vacate his maze, Annie decides she’s going in, along with the rest of their guests.
Dave wasn’t exaggerating; the maze (which is more like a roofed fort) is massive inside and becomes more interesting with every step. It’s not long before someone triggers a booby trap and has their head lopped off. The genius here, is that everything is made from cardboard. When the woman is decapitated, the cardboard broadsword leaves a red ribbon around her neck in place of a slit, and red yarn spews out of her torso. While the entrance to the maze/fort looks like something a child could make, the artistic details become more layered and complicated with each scene. Stop motion animation and practical effects bring gears and levers to life in such a way that the viewer begins to believe that the structure is alive and sentient. When the Minotaur appears, we realize that it is, in fact, a labyrinth, and that they must find Dave and escape before they all die. There’s just one problem: the labyrinth isn’t finished, so they can’t leave.
Every aspect of this film is brilliant. Co-writers Bill Waterman and Steve Sears have perfected the art of comedic banter and given all their characters loveable qualities. There is not a single weak actor among the cast, each performing their parts as if they’d been written specifically for them. The story is one that gets smarter the longer one watches until finally we understand that they labyrinth is a metaphor for Dave’s existential crisis. He states, during an interview with the insensitive filmmaker in their group (James Urbaniak) that he built the maze because he wanted to ‘make something’. That’s it. His parents are still paying his way, and the only emotion they express for him is boredom. He’s a thirty-year-old man who has yet to find his place in the world, and it seems the world doesn’t care. The efforts he makes to complete the maze and save his friends become that much more important as he finally understands that the key to his success is learning the art of completion.
Visually, this film is stunning. With a very small budget, the team lucked into a set location next to a textiles company that allowed them to dumpster dive for cardboard for a few weeks. When that offer was revoked, another company was found to supply the crew. Waterman has said in interviews that there was never a time during production that someone wasn’t walking around with a stack of cardboard and a box cutter. The maze takes twists and turns that either describe a project that Dave never finished or express his artistic talents, flowing from rough chopped carboard bits to scenes that look like professionally polished sets without lens breaks. In this respect, Dave Made a Maze is a film that needs to be watched more than once to truly appreciate the amount of work that went into its creation.
The soundtrack, written and performed by Tandemoro, may be the element that pushes the film from fantasy/adventure/comedy into horror territory, providing ambient tracks that amplify the fear the characters experience as their friends are killed and hunted through the maze. There are moments of subtle blending that are magical (watch the piano wall scene).
While the film is intended to be at least partly comedic, the vibe is on par with Pan’s Labyrinth or Mirror Mask, the impossibility of the whole thing so beautifully done that the viewer finds themselves entranced by the imaginative scenery. The storyline could easily be made into a strictly horror film with the removal of the comedy (and a much bigger budget), but then the brilliant meaning behind it would be lost. As it stands, Dave Made a Maze is a wonderful depiction of the real-life horror that many young adults are facing today: trying to feel relevant in a desperately apathetic world.
With its limited release in 2017, Dave Made a Maze brought in less than $40,000 at the box office and seems to have disappeared. We found it streaming on Tubi amidst much lesser quality films which is a shame; this film needs a cult following. It scored a whopping 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and did well even with the likes of Roger Ebert.com. Its dismal returns are a mystery.
This was Waterman’s directorial debut, and we truly hope that he brings us more soon. With this level of ingenuity and creativity, He could be the next Tim Burton or Neil Gaiman.
Kate’s love of all things dark began as a child and deepened when she realized what being an adult meant. She was born with a pencil in her hand and loves nothing more than writing horrific stories to tantalize her inner demons. Kate lives in Hamilton, Ontario Canada with her husband and her boys, stirring up trouble wherever she can.