Overview: A struggling artist builds a maze hoping to complete something and becomes trapped inside. Gravitas Ventures; 2017; Unrated; 80 minutes.

We’ve All Been There: No matter the size of the project, finishing anything is an accomplishment. And like anything else, it can create a habit. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. Not finishing things, giving up, not having a focus or a passion can be truly damaging. That feeling of struggle, of spinning your wheels in the mud, can lead to a special kind of shiftlessness. Sometimes that lack of drive is replaced by bursts of passion for new projects, but it can quickly fade, leaving projects unfinished, dreams unrealized, and relationships stagnant. Every person who has struggled with motivation during a job or a project knows this feeling all too well.

Stick With the Couple: Dave Made A Maze focuses in on a man who is in the throes of that feeling. His girlfriend, Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) arrives home after a long day, only to find a strange, childish scene laid out before her. A makeshift maze, comprised of cardboard boxes, as well as a tremendous mess surrounding it, is spread out on the living room floor. Annie, as a proxy for the audience, stares in disbelief and has a frustrating conversation with disembodied Dave, who is lost in the maze. And honestly, it just gets weirder from here, folks. The interplay between Dave (Nick Thune), Annie, and his best friend Gordon (Adam Busch) are the emotional core of the film. Annie and Dave feel like a real couple, and their shared frustration and love are genuine. The authentic portrayal of Annie, at times funny and at others desperate to escape, will remind the audience to the danger of the maze, which is necessary due to the light tone. The supporting characters, particularly those of a documentary film crew, simply seem like an easy way to stretch out a very good short film to an average film of some length. The writers, Steven Sears and Bill Watterson, seem to be attempting to put together some awkward funny moments here, but many of these fall flat. However, it does provide Dave with a powerful moment as he discovers why he is building this maze—perhaps for the first time—on a conscious level.

 The Cardboard Steals the Show: The true stars of Dave Made A Maze are the practical effects used once inside the maze. To steal a line from an uber-popular geek property, Dave informs us that the maze is “bigger on the inside.” The size and structure of the maze is also reminiscent of the popular Community episode, “Pillows and Blankets.” But the similarities end there, as once the film opens up and gives in to the insane world building and lack of reality inherent in this underground world, Dave Made A Maze finds its footing and immediately soars. Some of these moments are built in actual cardboard and others transition into fantastic animation, main characters included. The world building, in an ever changing world, is entirely impressive. It gives first time director Bill Watterson the ultimate freedom to build anything he wants, just as long as he can take something from the real world to create it. This combination of freedom and limitation helps us not only accept the maze world but also be connected to the main character’s desire to finally finish this creation. As a horror-comedy, there are moments that could be gruesome, but, as another sign of Watterson’s creativity, these bloody moments are played minimally for scares, and mostly for comedy using unexpected props.

Mostly, Dave Made A Maze is interested in the process of not only building something, but finishing it. Creation is an accomplishment, even if it seems as trite as a maze made from cardboard. People toil in jobs they do not want, that do not feed them, and those are the lucky, employed ones. But to actually create a passion and fulfill it, that is the dream. A dream that can become a reality through hard work, connection with others, or even just finishing what is in front of you. Dave gets that, even if he isn’t the best at explaining it.

Overall: Dave Made A Maze is an interesting exercise in world-building and big ideas that affect us all. Strong leading performances from Nick Thune and Meera Rohit Kumbhani bolster these ideas with protagonists to care for, despite minimal time spent on characterization.

 Grade: B

Featured Image: Gravitas Ventures