Film Review: ‘Dave Made a Maze’

A home-made living room labyrinth that's "bigger on the inside" proves improbably difficult to escape.

Nick Thune, Meera Rohit Kumbhani, James Urbaniak, Stephanie Allynne, Kristen Vangsness, Scott Krinsky, Frank Caeti, Timothy Nordwind, John Hennigan, Scott Narver, Rick Overton, Adam Busch.

“Dave Made a Maze” is a whimsical fantasy about a dude who gets lost in a living-room labyrinth of his own making. Bill Watterson’s directorial debut is itself like an awesomely scaled home craft project. The idiosyncrasy and resourcefulness are impressive, even inspiring to a point. But at 80-odd minutes, the self-conscious novelty begins to seem  stretched, enough so that you notice this clever conceit is never particularly funny or meaningful — just cute. Nonetheless, it’s just the kind of project that’s bound to accrue a cult following.

Dave (Nick Thune) is an artist plagued by creative block. When his girlfriend, Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani), leaves for the weekend, he devises a wee craft project to get the juices flowing. Upon her return, Annie is nonplussed to discover the results occupying their entire apartment living room: Dave has built a cardboard maze, and while he responds cheerfully to her greeting and sounds just inches away, he cannot seem to make his way out.

“It’s bigger on the inside,” he calls, pleading with her not to rattle the sides (which he experiences like a major seismic event), nor to come inside. He does give her permission to call his bestie, bearded and bespectacled Gordon (Adam Busch), for advice. But all too soon the absurd crisis has evolved into a party, with the couple’s friends — including insistent documentarian Harry (James Urbaniak) and his crew — promptly barging into the cardboard confines to “rescue” their hidden host.

They discover right away that, impossibly, it is indeed bigger on the inside — much, much bigger. Dave’s imagination can be credited for certain peculiarities, but the maze appears to have taken on a life of its own, defying directional as well as spatial logic. It also springs booby traps for the unwary. The first to die is overenthusiastic Jane (Kristen Vangness of “Criminal Minds”). Still, her gory demise is depicted in terms of red yarn and confetti, making “Dave Made a Maze” not so much a horror movie as an antic riff on genre conventions. Other perils encountered include an attack by origami birds, a “giant growing lady part” whose appetite is all too Freudian, and the labyrinth’s very own Minotaur (WWE wrestler John Hennigan in a cardboard bull mask).

Gordon succinctly analyzes Dave’s problem: “He gets all fired up about stuff but never finishes anything.” The solution Dave himself hits upon is that for once he simply must complete this project — actually finish constructing the maze — in order to save himself, Annie and any other survivors.

“Dave Made a Maze” purportedly utilized more than 30,000 square feet of scrap cardboard to realize its fantasy world. That note of trivia is almost a more satisfying curio than the film itself, which is amiably goofy, admirably resourceful — and seldom more than just mildly amusing. Actor-turned-first-time director Watterson delights in the invention of his design collaborators, but the script he co-wrote with Steven Sears feels like a clever comedy sketch idea expanded to feature length without developing the substance or bite needed to sustain itself. Dave’s generic slacker angst (“I’m 30 years old and my parents are still giving me money”) isn’t thematic weight enough to anchor an episodic endeavor enlivened only so much by decent comedy talent dealing with absurdist situations in a hip deadpan that grows monotonous, with dialogue that too often sounds less-than-inspirationally improvised.

And yet as a sheer stunt, the movie is always watchable, whether in its imaginatively handmade sets (production design by John Sumner and Trisha Gum, art direction by Jeff White), a puppet interlude, or several diverse animations (credited to Musa Brooker/Platypus Pictureworks). Like a viral baby-goat video, “Dave Made a Maze” is  very cute. For some, that may be more than enough. And even those who want considerably more will have to admit that its brand of twee is at least as distinctive as anything in a line of similarly thin but puckish films like “Forbidden Zone” or “Be Kind Rewind.”

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Dave Made a Maze'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, July 21, 2017. Running time: 81 MIN.

Production: A Gravitas Ventures release of a Dave Made An LLC presentation in association with Butter Stories and Foton Pictures. Produced by John Charles Meyer, John Chuldenko. Executive producers, Carlos Cusco, Emerson Machtus.

Crew: Directed by Bill Watterson. Screenplay, Steven Sears, Watterson, from a story by Sears. Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Jon Boal; editor, David Egan; music, Mondo Boys.

With: Nick Thune, Meera Rohit Kumbhani, James Urbaniak, Stephanie Allynne, Kristen Vangsness, Scott Krinsky, Frank Caeti, Timothy Nordwind, John Hennigan, Scott Narver, Rick Overton, Adam Busch.

More Film

  • Adam Driver appears in The Report

    'The Report' Trailer: Adam Driver Investigates Post-9/11 Interrogation Tactics

    Adam Driver is in pursuit of the truth in Amazon Studio’s first look at “The Report,” a tense political drama about the CIA’s use of torture. The film focuses on Senate staffer Daniel Jones (Driver), who begins to investigate the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, a group created in the aftermath of 9/11. As he [...]

  • Fox Searchlight Buys 'The Personal History

    Fox Searchlight Buys 'The Personal History of David Copperfield'

    Fox Searchlight has acquired North American rights to “The Personal History of David Copperfield,” Armando Iannucci’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel of the same name. The deal comes in advance of the film’s Toronto International Film Festival bow on Sept. 5, as well as its BFI London Film Festival premiere on Oct. 2. The studio [...]

  • on day 3 of the London

    Barbara Broccoli, Richard Curtis, Passion Pictures Team on Paralympics Documentary

    Oscar-winning British production company Passion Pictures is teaming up with James Bond producer Barbara Broccoli and filmmaker Richard Curtis on a new feature documentary about the Paralympic Games. The project, currently titled “Harder Than You Think,” brings together Passion’s John Battsek with producer Greg Nugent of HTYT Films, with Broccoli and Curtis both serving as [...]

  • Tribeca Film Insitute's PitchNY Program Now

    Tribeca Film Institute's PitchNY Program Kicks Off (EXCLUSIVE)

    College students and recent alumni in New York can apply to the 4th annual PitchNY program, an effort to help young, diverse directors, producers and writers fine-tune their pitching skills, as well as to connect them with entertainment industry professionals who will serve as mentors. On Thursday, Tribeca Film Institute, The New York State Governor’s [...]

  • La-camarista

    ‘The Chambermaid’ Cleans Up in the U.S.

    SANTIAGO, Chile — Call it the “Roma” effect but Mexican newcomer Lila Aviles’ engaging portrait of a hotel servant, “The Chambermaid” (“La Camarista”) has found outstanding reception in the U.S. and in multiple territories, giving hope to other arthouse films from Latin America and elsewhere that seek distribution in “fortress America.” “‘Roma’ was a beautiful, brawny and [...]

  • Beograd 20.03.2012 Milutin Petrovic, reditelj, scenarista,

    Lost Script by ABC Studios Editor Turned Into Movie and Series 'Bad Blood'

    An ambitious new Serbian feature film and 10-part television series set in the Ottoman Empire of the 19th century has emerged from a long lost script by a former editor at ABC Studios in New York City. Belgrade-based This and That Productions is producing “Bad Blood,” based on the works of renowned Serbian writer Borisav [...]

  • Gael Garcia Bernal on the Power,

    Gael Garcia Bernal on the Power, Responsibility of Cinema to ‘Provoke’

    Gael García Bernal said acting for the likes of Oscar winners Alejandro González Iñárritu and Alfonso Cuarón helped groom him for the director’s chair and praised cinema as “the only medium” that allows artists to “explore the gray areas” in unparalleled ways. “The world is so full of certainties now, and cinema is the one that [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content