Written by: Katy Baldwin and Timothy Gutierrez
Directed by: Steve Shimek
Starring: Shalaina Castle, Brandon Sean Pearson, and Clare Niederpruem
Reviewed by: Brett G.
ďThereís someone else in the maze!Ē
As yellowing leaves begin to litter the ground and the smell of autumn hangs in the air, thoughts turn to the various attractions October holds. Most areas feature an assortment of haunted houses and spook trails that offer cheap thrills for the crowd in need of an interactive horror kick. An off-shoot of these attractions are the numerous corn mazes that give brave souls a chance to get lost among endless rows of corn. Itís a naturally creepy setting, and itís difficult to believe itís rarely been exploited by the horror film genre. As someone who lives five minutes away from such a maze, I can attest to the feeling of isolation and loneliness; about the only thing missing is a deranged maniac out to hack up any unfortunate soul who wanders in. Apparently, the minds behind The Maze had the same mentality, as they saw the potential for a slasher movie buried somewhere down in a row of cornstalks in Utah.
Five friends are making a long trip in search of a prime corn maze; of course, said maze is in the middle of nowhere, and, true to form, their car is broken down when we first meet them. To no oneís surprise, the GPS also doesnít work, which means they arenít even quite sure if theyíre headed in the right direction. Once they finally arrive at their destination, night has fallen and the maze is closed. Not that this deters the group from breaking into the maze and playing a game of tag anyway. What they donít know is that a homicidal psychopath already lurks the rows and is eager to pick them off one by one.
With a setup as clichť as that one, itís easy to assume that The Maze plays out as a pretty typical slasher. Thatíd be a correct assumption, at least for half of the running time, as you get many of the slasher hallmarks: thinly developed characters, filler dialogue, and some pointless meandering leading up to the stalking and slashing. By now, you know the formula: thereís no need to get too attached to any of the characters because most of them wonít be sticking around too long. Instead, you just kick back and hope to see them die in gory fashion, and, if youíre lucky, maybe some suspense will precede the bloodletting. In the case of The Maze, donít expect much of either, as itís a relatively dry experience in more ways than one.
As a slasher, it falls flat simply because it lacks the creative, bloody thrills that sub-genre can offer. The splatter elements are rather tame and generic for the most part, as our killer is content with simply gutting his victims and slashing their throats. There is one decapitation sequence involving a guillotine (what itís doing in the middle of a corn maze is anyoneís guess), but itís off screen, much like the rest of the gore. This wouldnít be completely problematic if the film could succeed on any other horror level, but thereís not much suspense or characterization (even the killer is just a guy in a generic red hoodie) to be found. Instead, we get plenty of false starts and cheap jump scares accompanied by some rehashed Manfredini-esque stings as the film unfolds. The pacing is rather poor as well, and the film is a generally disjointed experience because it attempts to turn away from the slasher mode about halfway through. This, in turn, takes us away from the title setting, and the film suddenly becomes a sort of ineffective thriller because many of its twists and turns are telegraphed.
The film really should have embraced its setting and probably would have been more effective as a balls out slasher. The maze-set sequences make good use of the isolated and creepy vibe that the setting offers, as we frequently find ourselves framed between tall, endless stalks of corn. Between the howling wind and the ominous visuals, one truly feels transplanted into the middle of nowhere on a cold, autumn night. Unfortunately, thatís about the only thing of real interest thatís captured by the filmís excellent photography; indeed, the production values on this one are much better than you might expect from such a low budget production. Director Shimek shows some chops behind the camera, as this one is more than just a point and shoot affair; had there been better material to work with, this could have been a nice little atmospheric slasher. Instead, it simply retreads the worst elements of that sub-genre (unremarkable acting, thin plot) without offering its real draws (blood and guts, nudity).
I suppose one can argue this happens because the film set out to be more than just a slasher. That might be a fair point of contention, but itís not as if the film sets the world on fire when it becomes a dramatic thriller during the second half. At any rate, the film exhibits just enough competency to warrant a DVD release from Monarch Home Video. The disc is devoid of any special features, but the presentation is solid--the anamorphic transfer is clean, crisp, and shows off the filmís vivid colors. The soundtrack is also well done, as it clearly delivers both the dialogue and all of the spooky rustling in the maze itself. I canít say this one will have you swearing off corn mazes for future Halloween seasons, but I suppose if youíre starved for some hack and slash in a maze, you wonít mind wandering around in this one for 90 minutes. Rent it!
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