By Scott Dorward
Dave Made a Maze (USA, 2017)
“Did she die or did she just turn into a craft project?”
I am a sucker for stories that take an absurd premise to extremes. Almost everything in Dave Made a Maze is absurd, from the maze itself (or, more correctly, the labyrinth, as one of the characters points out) to the way Dave’s friends accept his creation and the chaos it brings. This is a funny film, but one filled with monsters and violent death. Well, sort of.
Annie returns from a weekend away to find that her artist boyfriend, Dave, has built a cardboard labyrinth in their living room. Even more oddly, he seems to have become lost inside it. While the external structure appears barely large enough to crawl into, Dave — or at least his disembodied voice from somewhere within — explains that it is bigger on the inside. He will undoubtedly be hearing from the Doctor’s lawyers.
Of course, Annie assumes Dave is either joking or having some kind of mental health crisis until she shakes the structure and hears impossible noises from within. Dave warns her not to come in as it is dangerous. After Annie calls some of Dave’s friends for advice, a small mob descends on the apartment to see this weirdness for themselves, accompanied by a couple of Flemish tourists and a hobo they picked up en route for his expertise in cardboard. Against Dave’s advice, everyone enters his labyrinth. To be fair to them, it would have been a far less interesting film otherwise.
As Dave has warned, the structure proves both massive and deadly. The visitors get lost, become separated, and start falling to deadly traps (because, as Dave explains, a labyrinth needs traps). Their situation becomes even more dire when they find themselves stalked by a minotaur and encounter a living manifestation of the labyrinth. If any of them are to survive, they need to help Dave tackle his creative block and actually finish a damn project for once.
The friends who enter Dave’s maze include a crew of documentary filmmakers. The director’s framing of scenes adds a nice layer of irony to proceedings. The already artificial situation of being lost inside a giant cardboard maze becomes all the more artificial as the explorers debate about how best to perform for the camera. The director himself, played wonderfully by James Urbaniak, drives events mercilessly, as much of a monster as any minotaur.
The maze itself feels like an absurdist D&D dungeon, filled with strange rooms, traps, and monsters. While it is as deadly as any dungeon, watching people killed by cardboard death traps is delightfully bizarre. And for all the violent death, this is a bloodless film. When people are dismembered within the maze, they explode in sprays of red yarn or silly string.
While Dave Made a Maze is obviously pure fantasy, it is easy for both the protagonists and audience to buy into its reality. Of course the labyrinth is massive on the inside. Yes, it spawns monsters. That’s how it’s all supposed to work, right? I was reminded of the radio series of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which Arthur Dent encounters a giant stone statue of himself throwing a cup. The cup itself hangs unsupported, hundreds of feet up in the air, because it is artistically right. Similarly, Dave’s labyrinth, born of its creator’s internal conflict, is just too artistically right to not work the way it does.
Dave Made a Maze is a fun, silly film. Every scene sparks with bizarre images and ideas. The characters engage with the absurdity with gusto and their dialogue is sharp and funny. But, like the labyrinth itself, the film is more complex than it first appears. While it may not fit everybody’s concept of a horror film, there is a real sense of menace, with death hiding around every corner. The cardboard walls and colourful paintings hide terrifying existential threats. The shifting, expanding dimensions of the structure make it feel like an intrusion from Carcosa.
At the same time, this is a film that explores the pathologies of creativity. Dave is a type of artist we all recognise, possibly when looking in the mirror. He flits between obsessions, starting projects and never finishing them. With his maze, however, he has found something he connects with deeply — perhaps too deeply — and has become hyperfocused, losing sight of everything else. While it would be armchair psychology of the worst sort to say this is a film about ADHD, it is absolutely a film about ADHD.
Whether you’re looking for a palate cleanser in a month of horror films or simply want to get lost somewhere weird for 90 minutes, Dave Made a Maze is a worthy investment of your time. Just make sure you finish it.
The October Horror Movie Challenge
Please do join in and share your own thoughts with us about this or any other films as the month goes on. You can usually find us on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Discord, or lurking in the dark corners of your home.
If you would like to play along at home, my provisional selections are:
- Possessor (2020)
- The Boogey Man (1980)
- Jakob’s Wife (2021)
- The Queen of Black Magic (2019)
- Cold Hell (2017)
- Seance (2021)
- The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane (1976)
- Dachra (2018)
- Isle of the Dead (1945)
- After Midnight (2019)
- The Baby (1973)
- Hagazussa (2017)
- Frightmare (1974)
- The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
- Dave Made a Maze (2017)
- Raw (2016)
- The Old Ways (2020)
- Terror Train (1980)
- mon mon mon MONSTERS (2017)
- Sator (2019)
- Don’t Torture a Duckling (1972)
- The Lighthouse (2019)
- Anything For Jackson (2020)
- Warning: Do Not Play (Amjeon) (2019)
- Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
- The Field Guide to Evil (2019)
- A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
- The Wizard of Gore (1970)
- Fingers (2019)
- Lake Bodom (2016)
- Island of Lost Souls (1932)
A Final Note
If you have been enticed here by these posts, please do look around at some of our other film reviews. We also have a podcast, called The Good Friends of Jackson Elias, which occasionally covers horror films. If this appeals, you might want to check out some of the following episodes.
- The Changeling
- The Endless
- Our favourite Cthulhu Mythos media
- The Fly
- A Dark Song
- The Thing
- The Ritual
- The Wicker Man
- The Stone Tape
- Event Horizon
- The Witch
- INLAND EMPIRE
- Nightbreed and Lord of Illusions
- Maléfique and The Ninth Gate
- Re-Animator and From Beyond
- Repulsion and The Babdook
- Man Bites Dog, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon and S&man
- A selection of weird films
- David Cronenberg
- The films that scared us most
If you dig through the archives, you will also find episodes about a wide variety of horror stories and games. Happy nightmares!