Vincenzo Natali’s 1997 indie horror Cube casts a long shadow for a movie crafted for under a million dollars and with a single set. Resident Evil would upgrade the opening razor-wire dicing to a laser corridor; Saw slathered the puzzle-box mystery in rust, grime, and slasher gore. More recent works like The Platform and Escape Room continue to evolve the trappings of Natali’s satirical societal-microcosm survival film. With its trap-filled tunnels, Meander feels similarly indebted to Cube but aims for a visceral pared-back approach, focusing on relentless survival and vague answers.

An incongruous opening introduces Gaia Weiss‘ Lisa, grieving the loss of her daughter only to find herself in the passenger seat of a possible serial killer…and then in an even more confounding situation. With the protagonist waking up in a mysterious room, a clunky glowing manacle clamped to her wrist, Meander jarringly morphs from familiar reality to abstract mechanical hell. Her constrictive box opens into an even tighter pipe, and Meander begins its 90-minute onslaught of suffocating claustrophobia.

Reminiscent of Shinya Tsukamoto’s nightmarish Haze (including one grisly sequence that could be a direct homage), the film becomes an almost-abstracted series of traps. Who’s controlling these crushing walls, who sending Lisa trap countdowns on her manacle, who were these other victims whose corpses litter the maze, who built these elaborate tunnels of flame jets or that acid bath? All those questions are nonentities that recede in favor of propulsive thrills. Logic and suspension of disbelief are two factors that will need to be discarded for maximum enjoyment of Meander. The film excels at a primal minimalism: one woman, one unknown diabolical labyrinth and the moment-to-moment physicality of survival. When focusing purely on enduring a series of traps, this is a viscerally suspenseful thrill-ride. Director Mathieu Turi assembles a taut succession of dangers that never relaxes its looming threat, where any stretch of killer tubing could unleash some new death-trap worse and more unnatural than the last.

While similar films often revolve around a group and piecemeal answers amid survival, Weiss‘ trial is largely a one-woman show, singularly propelled by intimate intense survival. Apart from a few exceptions – a fellow prisoner, then something much worse – Weiss is our sole anchor through Meander’s increasingly surreal death-trap. Her committed performance is driven by fierce desperate self-preservation; in the absence of dialogue, her unrelenting drive forward fills the void, and the director focuses on every terrified expression, clawing hand, gory wound.

However once Turi starts a drip-feed of context and potential answers about Meander’s scenario, the movie begins to crumble. Its suggestive otherworldly imagery borders on the allegorical, as the simple horror premise takes weird narrative turns that invite interpretations…some more concrete than others. Once the underlying question shifts from “How will Lisa survive?” to “Why Lisa must survive?” Meander becomes an underwhelming narrative haze whose vague conclusion felt anticlimactic at best, accented with a sense of “That’s it?”

As a narrative, Meander is thin yet increasingly obtuse. It’s a film entirely driven by physical performance and atmosphere, yet hopes to end on a profound note that seems to exist in another genre entirely. However, as a minimal exercise in claustrophobic suspense and deadly problem-solving, Meander is a grueling, gripping, occasionally gruesome success. Claustrophobics beware.

Summary
As a minimal exercise in claustrophobic suspense and deadly problem-solving, Meander is a grueling, gripping, occasionally gruesome success.
55 %
Visceral Claustrophobia
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