Movie Review: Trapped in a maze, doomed to “Meander”

“Meander” is a tense torture porn parable about a tormented soul further tormented and tortured when she’s kidnapped and held hostage in the most elaborate hamster-maze ever conceived.

If you let yourself get caught up in the logistics of how this maze was conceived, financed and built, and by whom, you’re kind of missing the point. But it’s easy to do. This is what Jigsaw would have cooked up with Bezos money and Musk tech.

I found it indifferently interesting, not remotely as gripping and visceral as say “Buried” with Ryan Reynolds stuffed into a coffin, or even “Rupture,” with Noomi Rapace trying to scheme her way out of a kidnapping.

Gaia Weiss plays Lisa, a French expat whom we meet on the road — literally. She’s a waitress, lying on a remote side road, as if waiting for somebody to get her life over with.

The Range Rover driver who picks her up (Peter Franzén) asks a lot of questions, says he’s a night watchman because “I don’t like people.” And then Lisa wakes up in a knee-and-elbow-padded sci-fi jumpsuit, with a wrist bracelet that serves as a light, a timer and we assume tracking device.

She’s in a dimly lit cubicle, barefoot, with no one answering her screams. But a sliding door opens, a crawlway is revealed, and she exits, starting down this or that shaft, led along like a mouse being manipulated, facing barbed wire and pathways that narrow or open up, ceilings that close down on her like a trash compactor, doors that clang open and shut, threatening to lop off a limb. And then there’s the acid and even fire.

She stumbles across a sizzled corpse, silently absorbs the idea that there’s alien tech that can fix her injuries so that she can proceed, and cheats death in its many forms. Otherwise, the movie’s over, right?

Writer-director Mathieu Turi’s settings point us to a fairly obvious solution and fairly early. Beyond the solution to the puzzle, there’s minimalist design, high-tech “traps” and a “ticking clock” that isn’t explained or dwelled up, a wasted plot element in a movie sadly in need of more urgency.

Weiss is a somewhat compelling heroine/surrogate for the viewer. But as the clues to her situation, the meaning of the “parable” at the heart of this torture chamber test and her “solutions” to the deadly dilemmas she’s presented with here play out, I found myself more curious than gripped by suspense, more impressed by the production design than invested in Lisa or by the “tests” she faces.

“Meander” abandons the reality it serves up for something instantly graspable as surreal. You make that leap, and the threat of fire, acid, assault by fellow “inmates” and the like grow less interesting with every passing minute.

It becomes a screen thriller you mentally set aside, like a puzzle with insufficient challenges to ever be worth tackling again.

MPA Rating: unrated, graphic violence

Cast: Gaia Weiss, Peter Franzén

Credits: Scripted and directed by Mathieu Turi. A Vertical release.

Running time: 1:30

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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