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(The 2017 Slamdance Film Festival kicked off on January 20 and runs through January 26. The HtN staff is repping Slamdance hard with reviews like this –Dave Made a Maze, Bill Watterson’s joyous, aMAZEing feature.)

A visually inventive tour-de-force of anarchic glee, Dave Made a Maze follows the lead of its title, giving us one man, named Dave, and his maze. It’s made of cardboard boxes, and sits in the living room of his small one-bedroom apartment. Paradoxically, it’s the product of indolence, since Dave, we later learn, has never been good at finishing tasks. So this one idea, begun on a whim, must be completed: Dave will finish the maze, even it kills him (or his friends).

For yes, the man has friends. His girlfriend, Annie, in fact, is the first to see the maze, which appears seemingly out of thin air, post-title sequence. She’s just returned from a trip, and opens the door to the place she shares with Dave only to be confronted by a small, apparently flimsy, structure where her furniture should be, but no boyfriend. His voice emerges from within the boxes, somehow reverberating with echo, as if from a distance. “It’s bigger than it looks,” he says, before urging her to stay without, lest she get lost, as is he, stuck inside for three days. He instructs her to call certain friends to come help, which she does.

And so begins the madness. First one arrives, then a crowd, including a documentary film crew. They stare at the three-foot-high, six-foot-long construction, unable to fathom how anyone could lose their way in something so small. Still, Dave’s cast a kind of quasi-magical spell, since smoke billows out from electric fans embedded in the cardboard walls and strange sounds emerge from impossible depths. Soon the friends, including Anna, go through the maze’s entrance to see what the fuss is about. They find Dave, all right, and so much more. There be monsters within.

All artists and creative souls will appreciate first-time director Bill Watterson’s crazy vision, an extremely clever metaphor for creative impasse and the efforts we make to overcome it. As the story progresses, Dave and his crew must battle demons internal and external, each obstacle also an opportunity for survival and advancement. Watterson puts his actors through their silly paces, and they make a game ensemble, with Nick Thune (Bad Johnson) as Dave, Meera Rohit Kumbhani (Weird Loners) as Annie, James Urbaniak (After Adderall) as the documentarian, and many more, including Adam Busch (Men at Work) and Stephanie Allynne (In a World).

It’s the actual maze – or labyrinth, as one characters insists it should be called – that is the real star, however. Constructed from over 30,000 feet of donated cardboard (per the press notes), it is a marvel of vivid imagination run delightfully amok. Animated with unexpected practical – as well as digital – effects and creatures, its twisting paths revealing ever-more ridiculous (and funny) booby traps, it easily grabs our attention, as does the briskly paced film, which at 80 minutes never overstays its welcome in any one scene. Frivolous fun though it may be (and occasionally more), Dave Made a Maze is a marvelous gem of an indie comedy, its cinematic treasures a treat for all.

– Christopher Llewellyn Reed (@ChrisReedFilm)

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Christopher Llewellyn Reed is a film critic, filmmaker, and educator. A member of both the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA) and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, he is: lead film critic at Hammer to Nail; Managing Editor at Film Festival Today; formerly the host of the award-winning Reel Talk with Christopher Llewellyn Reed, from Dragon Digital Media; and the author of Film Editing: Theory and Practice. In addition, he is one of the founders and former cohosts of The Fog of Truth, a podcast devoted to documentary cinema.

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