Woman in the Maze (2023) Review
Gabbi Reynolds (Meredith VanCuyk, Outsiders, Sitting in Bars with Cake) has been sent to check some property the developer she works for has bought near Jerome, the largest ghost town in Arizona. That lets Woman in the Maze’s director Mitesh Kumar Patel (Man in the Maze, Instant Karma) open the film with a long shot of Gabbi driving a corvette convertible through the scenic desert to the mansion she’s rented as a song that makes you want to shove ice picks in your ears plays.
After fielding a phone call from a friend and telling her the place isn’t haunted, “It’s even bigger than the pictures on the website, and it’s dirt cheap”, usually sure signs a house is infested with ghosts, she immediately starts hearing strange noises and her reflection in the bathroom mirror develops a mind of its own. In other words, Haunted House 101.
Sticking to the blueprint, the next morning Gabbi has an appointment with Owen (Joey Heyworth, My Landlord Wants Me Dead, Journey to Christmas) a local realtor turns into a meet cute and the two of them making eyes at each other as he shows her various properties. After a brief encounter with a haunted kaleidoscope, Gabbi heads into town to take a look around, and we get touristy footage of Jerome and a couple of ghost stories before we finally get our first scare via a woman who claims to be a seer and has a message for Gabbi.
The two tones don’t go well together, however. Any atmosphere that gets built in scenes such as a creepy nightmare Gabbi has involving robbed cultists is dissipated almost immediately by bright, sunny shots of the two of them together with cheerful music in the background. The contrast is jarring to the point of not just killing the atmosphere but pulling me right out of Woman in the Maze’s story.
Thankfully, around the halfway mark, the tone darkens considerably as the house launches an attack on Gabbi. Trapped inside and forced to try and find a way out, she becomes the titular Woman in the Maze unable to find a way out, or get those outside, namely Owen and Sheriff Cooper (Missy Jane, The Vortex Voices, Touch the Water), to notice her. Again, this is nothing new, but without the sugary romantic scenes writers Scott Gore (Tales of the Natchez Trace, House of Quarantine) and Matt Midgette (Instant Karma) sabotaged the first act with, Patel can not only build, but maintain enough tension that the film became effective enough to hold my attention.
A lot of the credit for that also goes to VanCuyk, who is in almost every scene, frequently alone, and has to sell the scenes with nobody to work off of. Woman in the Maze actually has an extremely small cast, apart from the three leads there are two others, Gabbi’s friend Tabitha (Cortney Davis) and boss Mitch (Sean Dillingham, Alien Sniperess, Echoes of Violence) who appear on video calls in the present day scenes and two Angus (George Nelson, Road to Revenge, Stiched) and Judy (Brenda Jean Foley, Tombstone-Rashomon, Wrath of the Viper Sniper) in a flashback to the house’s past.
Along with Bernie Tarin’s (Anti Corona Virus, Addiction) cinematography and score by George Kallis (The 100 Candles Game, The Prototype) there’s enough to overcome the weak opening act and lack of originality. The CGI effects are another liability, but there’s very few of them, thankfully. Overall, Woman in the Maze is a decent enough watch, sure the material is familiar, but it’s at least done well.
Woman in the Maze is available on Digital Platforms via Stonecutter Media.