I’m just going to come out and say it. 2020 has been terrible. Yes, those early months were promising. It was amazing when Parasite won Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. The Dublin International Film Festival too had a great line-up. However, since Covid-19 reached our island, there’s been thousands of cases and tragic deaths and the population has spent a significant part of the last nine months trapped in their homes. The killer bug has impacted virutally every aspect of our lives.
In times like these, we need relief – a chance to laugh. Thankfully, the inaugural Dublin International Comedy Film Festival will hit online screens from December 3 – 4 with a programme of homegrown and international comedy movies, alongside funny sketches, webshows and live stand-up. Those interested can get a festival pass which includes entry to all films and events at the price of only €5.
One of the titles to screen as part of the new festival is Dave Made a Maze. The film centres on the title Dave (Nick Thune), whose girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) comes home from a weekend trip to see he has constructed a maze made out of cardboard boxes in their apartment. Her confusion quickly turns to annoyance when her boyfriend refuses to greet her, telling her from under the boxes he cannot leave. Not knowing what to do, she calls Dave’s friend Gordon (Adam Busch) around to their home. He, in turn, calls over more friends – as well as a documenatry crew, two Flemish tourists and a homeless man. This is to try get to the bottom of things, as well as check out the cool maze.
So far, so weird. However, proceedings take a turn for the fantastical when the group decide to enter the structure, which in true Tardis fashion is actually much more massive then it appears from the outside. It is a place of both wonders – origami birds and rooms that turn people into puppets – and horrors – killer booby traps and a blood thirsty minotaur. Finding Dave, he explains to the group he has become trapped as his construction has taken on a life of its own – perhaps fuelled by his imagination. While Dave is set on completing his magnum opus, his friends try to escape.
Dave Made a Maze is a quirky odd little movie that somehow manages to garner a lot of affection from viewers. This is because it’s a high concept comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The premise is great, yet the movie never gets bogged down in expositional scenes explaining the rules of its labyrinthine world. It gives audiences just enough to keep their bearings, while using the time most other films would spend explaining how the mythical maze came into existence to be funny.
And Dave Made a Maze is often hilarious, but in a notably singular way. It is not a film with tons of one liners or that is drawing upon established social conventions for comedy. It feels more like a Yorgos Lanthimos’ movie in that it exists in its own offbeat strange world. When characters get killed within the maze – and as such, actually die – instead of blood, confetti and paper ribbons shoot out of their bodies. Other rooms, meanwhile, can turn people irreversibly into cardboard.
While those in Dave Made a Maze acknowledge the weirdness of what’s happening, each performance is coated in a slight dry detachment. While the characters do want to escape – which keeps the 80-minute-film feeling propulsive – they never seem too afraid. The secondary characters are all incredibly silly so when they are offed in increasingly surprising and inventive ways, it’s fun to watch. Meanwhile, the main players all have their own minor side-stories and foibles, often wittily contrasted with the carnage. Dave is disastisfied with his life, Annie is unsure about their relationship, the documentary crew – led by stand-out performer James Urbaniak – are mostly concerned about getting the perfect shot – no matter who dies.
It’s also just fun to watch the characters navigate the strange environment, which wouldn’t feel out of place in a Michel Gondry flick. The maze is a wondrous creation, somehow coming across very makeshift and tangible, yet also wondrous and vast – like a story-book come to life. It feels diverse and eclectic too, each room looking entirely different to the one that proceeds it. There’s rooms styled like piano keys and a deck of cards. There’s more fantastical spaces where co-writer and director Bill Watterson plays with perspective and in-camera effects and a place that makes all the characters look like they are in a black-and-white movie, leading to a very funny Raging Bull-inspired running gag.
The film in its latter half links Dave’s making of the maze to his unhappiness with adult life. He’s disatisfied with having to beg for jobs he isn’t passionate about and is fed up of being broke, the maze being his effort of attempting to escape his daily pressures. Here, like in much of the movie, the screenplay gets the balance of light and dark just right. There’s just enough of Dave’s ennui to ground the character, but it never overwhelms the story or distracts from the humour.
While originally released in 2017 in the US, Dave Made a Maze is maybe the perfect movie to watch from home amidst Covid-19. Who among us does not wish to exit their confinement and journey into an exciting fantasy world? It may not be the real thing, but Dave Made a Maze may scratch that itch.