Meander is a dull and derivative dud that fails to deliver the requisite thrills or kills demanded of its genre.
On a desolate stretch of road in the middle of nowhere, a thirty-something woman (Gaia Weiss) lies in wait, hoping that a speeding car will drive over her prone body and end her life. Changing her mind at the last second, she instead accepts a ride from a stranger (Peter Franzén), who turns out to be a wanted serial killer. After being knocked unconscious, the woman awakens in an enclosed metal structure, with a lighted bracelet strapped to her left arm. It counts down from eleven minutes as a passageway opens in front of her. Can she escape the labyrinth of booby trap-laden tubes that lie before her? Tube rhymes with cube — you’re welcome — and new French thriller Meander is nothing if not a riff on the 1997 Canadian horror flick of the same geometric name. Honestly, it’s enough to wonder if this film was originally titled Tube but was forced to change due to some sort of potential copyright infringement, so similar are the pair. But where Cube featured multiple participants within its sadistic games, Meander limits itself simply to the aforementioned woman, Lisa. Oh, there’s also a zombie with rotting, burned flesh. And some sort of futuristic AI technology thingy that has an exposed human jaw.
Most of the film consists of Lisa crawling through tubes of various widths while writer-director Mathieu Turi shoots the action from every angle imaginable, employing various and unique light sources whenever the mood strikes him. In fairness, Meander isn’t entirely derivative of Cube; elements of Saw and Escape Room also abound, and not merely in the general conceit. Thematically, Meander has something to say about overcoming loss and persevering in spite of the seeming futility of existence, but why exactly these specific themes always seem to pop up in these types of films is a question for a seasoned therapist, not a jaded film critic. Suffice to say, it makes an already familiar plot even more hackneyed, as our protagonist is defined solely by her dead child, which is both cheap and manipulative. As a result, it makes it hard to care about her or any of the tortures she endures. To his credit, Turi tries hard to shake up the formula, briefly dipping into the Cronenbergian pool of body horror with imagery straight out of Videodrome. And while not entirely original, it certainly brings some much-needed variety to the proceedings, even offering a few moments of goopy gore to keep the viewer engaged. The ending, though, well…let’s just say that Turi crosses the existentialism of Martyrs with the celestial earnestness of a Mike Cahill feature, and the result is approximately as unsuccessful as that sounds. Weiss doesn’t have much of a character to play, but she at least gives her all to a physically demanding performance. It’s just too bad it’s in service of a film that — particularly frustrating for a genre work — more than lives up to its title. Truly, the only thing viewers need from a film like Meander, at least to achieve a basic baseline, is to watch random people get killed in unique and vicious ways. Turi would be wise to forego the Chicken Soup for the Soul shenanigans next time.