Frikke must win the game of Labyrinthus to save his friends.
As Labyrinthus opens, we meet two fourteen-year-old best friends, Frikke (Spencer Bogaert) and Marko (Felix Maesschalck) as they are posing outside their school for a class photo being taken by a seemingly bumbling photographer. After the photo session is finished, the two hurry through their Dutch city to a spot where Marko has been watching out for a girl he has a crush on. So far Marko has been too shy to go up to her until Frikke goads him into doing that. But things are interrupted when Frikke is almost hit by a speeding bicyclist, who unknowingly drops a leather carry-bag. Frikke runs after the bicyclist, but he is gone. Looking inside the bag, Frikke finds a square camera with a thumb drive attached to it which he takes home. At his home we meet his mom (Jan de Bruyne) and younger sister Dorien (Nell Cattrysse), Mops the cat, and Pikkels, Frikke’s dog. We learn that Frikke is accomplished as a student and interested in science, math and computers. When Frikke checks out the camera and tries out the thumb drive on his laptop, he discovers that it contains a game, Labyrinthus, (a word that refers to a complex network of mazes) and that the camera can actually take images of people, animals, or objects and place them into the game. Immediately upon starting the game, Frikke is confronted by a villainous looking character wearing a black leather cape and beak mask, who tells Frikke he must play to the finish if he wants to try the game. Not quite realizing what he is about to get into, Frikke agrees and the game begins. Frikke uses the camera to take a picture of Mops, when Pikkels runs away, and he is amazed when within a few seconds he sees the family cat on his computer screen in the middle of the game.
Frikke and Marko on the street.
Quickly Frikke learns that there is a downside to the game when soon after placing Mops into the game, he hears a commotion downstairs. Mops has suddenly gone into a coma-like state, lying limp on the living room floor. Frikke is shocked and young Dorien is in tears. Eventually Frikke goes back to his room. There he discovers that the game has a human inside, a young girl (Emma Verlinden) who has no idea who she is or how she got there. The game becomes even more serious when the beaked man tells Frikke that the only way to save her is to win the game by figuring out a code, and if he quits or tries to end the game early she will die. The game environment itself is quite unusual, based on all kinds of paper themes. There are rooms filled with boxes, origami, stacks of newspapers, books, pathways of maps, houses of cards, and pop-up cities made of printed paper. Frikke himself appears in the game as Little Hat, a flying triangular folded piece of newspaper with large capital O’s for eyes. Frikke helps the girl move around and avoid the beak-masked man who is pursuit of her. He even sends an apple and some milk by using the camera, although as soon as he does that the milk becomes sour and the apple shrivels up to nothing in the outside world. The next morning on their way to school, Marko tells Frikke about a young girl who was found comatose in the park the day before and then taken to the local hospital. As soon as Frikke hears this, he rushes there and discovers that same girl from the game, whose name is Nola, in a coma. Worse yet, a few days later, Marko is somehow inserted into the game, suffering from amnesia like Nola. Frikke is devasted by this development, and runs to the hospital at night in the midst of pouring rain to find that Marko is now comatose like Nola.
During class Marko grabs the photo box.
Now the stakes are even more serious for Frikke. With so much on the line, Frikke realizes he needs to find out who else is playing the game, most likely the bicyclist who dropped the carry-bag with the camera and thumb drive. Frikke places an ad for the special camera at the local camera store. When he is contacted, he sets up a meeting with the caller, a man named Rudolf (Pepijn Caudron), although he just does that to find who the caller was. Then he and Pikkels follow Rudolf back to his residence in an abandoned factory. At first Rudolf and Frikke believe that the other person is the bad guy responsible for the game, but they quickly realize that they are both on the same side, trying to rescue the kids caught inside the game. They decide to work together to find out who is actually responsible so that person can be stopped, Nola and Marko rescued, and the game destroyed. Their quest to do so makes up the balance of the film. Things become urgent as the game nears its end. Rudolf and Frikke must figure out where the exit is inside the game and decipher the exit code from words on fortune cookies, while the man with the beak mask attempts to capture Nola, Marko, and a third kid Miranda (Pommelien Tijs), to prevent them from escaping.
Marko and Nola are trapped inside the game.
In our reviews of European family films, we have often noted the difference in tone and style from adventure films made in the USA. Labyrinthus is no exception with its more muted special effects, which are all contained within the world of the video game. A plus for the film is the fact that it keeps things relatively simple and relies on character development and interaction more than the special effects of the video game. The characters are quite likeable with Spencer Bogaert (in his first major role), Felix Maesschalck, and Emma Verlinden all giving solid performances in the film. Their characters are believable because when they are not inside the game, they act like normal young teenagers from anywhere starting to explore their identities and desires for meaningful relationships. The kids all have on very American clothing and if it wasn’t for the Dutch soundtrack and canals in the background you could imagine the storyline happening almost anywhere in the western world, with the implied message that kids are the same everywhere. There is even some realistic family interaction that contributes to its appeal. The adults in the cast act like real adults which adds to the authenticity. Pepijn Caudron as Rudolph, the man helping Frikke and Jan de Bruyne as Frikke’s mom deserve credit for that. There were definitely places in the film where writer Pierre De Clercq could have done more with the video game elements, perhaps providing us with a rationale for the paper themed sets inside the game or giving us longer sequences in the various sets to help us understand why the game designer was pursuing young teenagers. This film would do well in the English speaking world, but so far is only available in the US and Canada in a French language version, and in Dutch with English subtitles if you can get hold of an orginal copy. Given the popularily of the subject matter, it would be a smart move for the producers to put out an English dubbed version.
Marko and Nola must cross the flimsy paper bridge to escape.
Marko is starting to cross the bridge.
Felix Maesschalck in hs role as Frikke’s best friend Marko wears black high top chucks throughout the film. As the film has sort of a retro feel to it, it is appropriate that chucks make an appearance along with Spencer Bogaert’s suede red low cut Vans. We also see brief shots of other kids wearing chucks, like Marko’s girl friend in white high tops and a classmate at school in well worn black high tops. The best scene featuring chucks is when a very fearful Marko is trying to cross the flimsy wood and paper bridge, one of their last obstacles to escape from the game. After the bridge supports are destroyed by the beak-masked villain, the camera provides us with closeups of his chucks as he tries to hang on and save himself.
Marko frantically tries to avoid falling in the water after the bridge is cut.
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