Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Dave Made A Maze

Labyrinth Intensive

Dave Made A Maze
USA 2017 Directed by Bill Watterson
Arrow Blu Ray Zone B

When Arrow Films first started pushing Dave Made A Maze into my face via my twitter timeline last year to promote their upcoming Blu Ray release, I could not have been less interested. Why? Well because, somehow, I’d got it into my brain that they were promoting some kind of TV show and, as a writer of blog reviews, I don’t usually have a lot of time to invest in watching multi-part TV shows instead of films, apart from a few fairly, obvious, ‘exceptional exceptions’. It would slow down my output so much to invest that kind of time on it. Of course, it turns out that Dave Made A Maze is in no way a TV show and I’m not quite sure why I thought anything otherwise. Maybe it was the juxtaposition of tweets in my timeline the first instance I saw it hit my feed, maybe it was something in the way they’d phrased their promotion or maybe it’s because it’s just not the kind of film I would have expected Arrow to release. I tend to, rightly or wrongly, associate this label with a lot of exploitation movies from various genres.

So, anyway, happy ending to that story because, at some point, I accidentally saw a trailer for this thing and... fell in love with the concept straight away. Also, it has James Urbaniak who played Simon Grimm in Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool trilogy and Robert Crumb in American Splendour. This moved right near the top of my ‘purchase fairly soon’ list and so I finally saw what is, frankly, one of the better movies I’ll see this year (although the lack of high profile cinema release in the UK here makes it ineligible for my end of year list, which is a shame).

Okay so, the movie starts off with Dave’s girlfriend Annie, played by the excellent Meera Rohit Kumbhani (I’ll have to watch out for more stuff with her in it) coming back to Dave’s apartment and finding a room sized mini maze, technically a labyrinth, there. This is a kind of art installation maze that Dave, played here by Nick Thune, has made out of cardboard and, although he can talk to Annie through the thin walls, he is trapped in there because, as you’ll see (and know from the trailer if you’ve seen it), the inside of the maze is a bit like the TARDIS from Doctor Who... that is to say, dimensionally transcendental. In other words, huge and labyrinthine on the inside as opposed to the outside.

So, after a while, many people have gathered in the apartment to figure out how to extract Dave from the maze, including his best friend Gordon played with brilliant comic timing by Adam Busch and the aforementioned James Urbaniak as Harry, who has his sound and camera crew with him so he can make a documentary of Dave’s rescue attempt. And then loads of people enter ‘the maze’ and... some don’t make it out again. The maze has a life of it’s own and, asides from being tricked out with lethal booby traps, it also has a genuine Minotaur in there to give chase as well.

And, honestly, the film is a joy to watch from start to finish. I like quirky films anyway and this is just one of the best. There are some beautiful things happening here such as any bloodshed having almost equal gravitas as it would in any other film but, once in the maze, it manifests itself quite differently. For instance, if you see the right trailer, you’ll see a wonderful decapitation sequence from this where, after an actress loses her head, red party streamers cascade out of her neck in a kind of fake, paper craft approximation of arterial spray. There’s another death where a guy is impaled on a trap where the spikes are just flimsy toilet rolls but he’s made up to look like the toilet rolls have impaled him and then his guts behave in exactly the same way as the former ‘decapitation lady’s’ head. It’s really nice, ridiculous stuff that I couldn’t get enough of. 

But it’s not just that... there’s so much clever stuff going on in this movie and it’s not just the cool sets which were pretty much put together from cardboard found ‘dumpster diving’.. as is my understanding. It has some very witty dialogue in this movie and, with a bunch of performers like this, it makes for a wonderfully comic time. And also, it sticks to its guns and each time I thought the movie couldn’t get any stranger... which is already a good thing... it managed to up the ‘totally oddball’ stakes time and time again. I don’t want to say too much but there are some scenes where actors are monochromatic against a colour background, scenes where they turn into animated puppets for a while and some really nice, trompe l'oeil effects which fool the eye and turn the sets into things you didn’t realise they were (think similar to the final bridge Indy has to cross at the end of Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade). All this plus a scene where two of the actors are continually changing their attire from cut to cut which kinda reminded me of a 1960s incarnation of a Jean Luc Godard movie plus a sequence which I will only refer to here as... ‘the lady parts trap’.

Honestly, it’s been a while since I had this much fun with a movie and, refreshingly enough, once all is said and done, there’s no magic reset button to tell you everything you watched is now undone. The consequences of spending time in this labyrinth, as seen especially on its creator (I don’t want to spoil this) and various deaths, are not just undone at the end. Also, the reaction acting of Meera Rohit Kumbhani is amazing because, at the start of the film, you kinda know there is something wrong between her and Dave without anyone ever saying anything once throughout the course of the story. However, there’s real character development here and, as the horrors and wonders of the maze become gradually revealed over the course of the movie, you can see her falling back in love with Dave as things progress, just from her demeanour. Which is much more than I would expect from a quirky, independent movie which is trying to juggle a fair few visual balls in the air.

So yeah, that’s me done on this one. Dave Made A Maze is one of the best films I’ve seen this year and it’s just a shame it wasn’t at the cinema. The film is available for 'streaming people' (so that’s definitely not the likes of me) and also via this Arrow Blu Ray. I don’t know why there’s been no DVD release over here for people who only have access to that technology but hopefully someone will rectify that oversight at some point because this is such a great movie. I believe Arrow rent it out over YouTube though so, definitely worth a watch. If you are into cinema and love the language of film and, heck, even just want a good time from a movie, Dave Made A Maze is a truly brilliant picture to sit down and spend some quality time with. Some very cool and self aware movie making going on here.

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