The act of living is not simple. It’s a constant struggle…
…Every day that we’re alive, every second, every breath of air, is a miracle. And the fight to take that next breath is never easy. With every moment that we live, life attacks and constrains us. The sophomore feature from writer/director Mathieu Turi, Meander is the struggle to survive incarnate.
Just as the concept of life and death, the premise of Meander is simple. The film follows Lisa (Gaia Weiss), a tormented mother dealing with the death of her child and struggling to go on. After catching a ride with Adam (Peter Franzen), Lisa’s day takes a turn for the worse, and she finds herself in a strange, narrow tunnel, with a glowing timer attached to her wrist. In order to escape, Lisa has no choice but to move forward, working her way through a labyrinthine maze full of deadly traps and other horrific surprises before her time runs out.
It’s the simple nature of Meander that makes the film so incredibly effective.
We first meet Lisa, lying in the middle of the road and staring up at the sky. When Adam comes along, the first words out of her mouth are, “I’m lost”. And she is. Lisa makes clear she doesn’t want to die, divulging as much to Adam, but she also doesn’t know how to go on in a world cruel enough to have taken her daughter away. It’s a central theme of Meander, as the film opens on a radio spouting ugly news story after ugly news story, coupled with a melancholy tune. The world is mean, and people can be even meaner. But we’re all just trying to live.
Turi throws Lisa and the audience into the claustrophobic nightmare that is Meander almost immediately, but not before giving us a clear idea of who Lisa is with just a few words of dialogue. Good thing too, because this is an up close and deeply personal movie that never leaves Lisa and is carried entirely by Weiss, who makes it look easy, delivering an inspirational performance that is so moving it’s guaranteed to make you tear up with tears of devastation and hope. Meander is an intimate experience, putting us right there with Lisa as she claws and scrapes her way back to life.
And when I say claw and scrape, I mean claw and scrape.
Meander has been compared to the likes of Saw and Cube, and it certainly has shades of each, but I’d liken it more to a claustrophobics worst nightmare brought to terrifying reality. Put me in a closet for longer than a minute and I’ll start to get uncomfortable, so if I found myself in Lisa’s situation, I may just curl up and die, because hell no. The tunnel—more like a vent—which makes up around eighty percent of the set in Meander is like a cruel character all its own. Meander might as well be renamed Crawl 2, because Lisa is forced to spend most of the film on her stomach, slowly making her way towards whatever end her captor(s) have in mind for her. If you’re claustrophobic in any way, this movie will crank your anxiety up to eleven and keep it there. To say that the fear factor of Lisa’s situation is intense would be an understatement. Meander puts the squeeze on your nerves, again and again and again.
I can’t say for sure if Turi was inspired by Saw or not, but the scenario which Lisa finds herself in certainly feels like Jigsaw decided to create a Greek mythology inspired labyrinth with a scientific bent. At every turn, Lisa faces elemental traps involving fire, water, blades and even acid, plus a few other surprises I won’t spoil here. Meander isn’t as mean of a film as the Saw franchise, but Lisa takes on her fair share of pain. Violence and gore aren’t the focus, yet Turi never shies away from the uglier moments, including leaving a few nasty corpses behind to remind Lisa of her predicament.
Ratcheting up the claustrophobia is suffocating cinematography by Alain Duplantier, who uses techniques that make the tunnels seem to expand on forever, along with frequent close-ups of Weiss to sell the constricting pressure Lisa is facing. Production designer Thierry Jaulin also deserves a ton of credit in keeping the visuals interesting, soaking the sets in an unnecessary yet gorgeous neon that contrasts nicely with the otherwise grim nature of the situation. Meander, after all, is not a film that is just about the horror. Just like life, for every moment of devastation, there is one of hope, with Meander more concerned with hitting home its philosophical themes than scaring the pants off of the audience, both of which it does well.
Where Meander, er, meanders a little is in the pacing. It’s difficult to maintain the tension introduced in the first half when so much of the film is Lisa moving over, under and through danger, and at times it can even start to feel a tad predictable. Which is what makes Turi’s script so interesting, because despite that, Meander actually uses the predictability of things to throw the audience off balance in key moments for a jaw-dropping shock that you don’t see coming. Every time you think you know where Meander is going, you don’t. The tunnels which Lisa is making her way through are not the only element of Meander that is full of twists and turns.
Meander doesn’t always nail the suspense, and the heavy focus on the theme occasionally gets in the way of the terror, but make no mistake, this is a film that constricts the nerves tighter and tighter as it goes on. Whenever Meander seems to slow down, a new nightmarish element is introduced that yanks the audience right back in. Mathieu Turi’s sophomore feature is an inspired nightmare with a warm, moving heart at the center that reminds us…whatever obstacles you’re facing in life, just keep going.
Just keep going.
Meander comes to theaters and VOD July 9th from Gravitas Ventures.
By Matt Konopka
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