The Maze Runner
It seems if it’s not set in a dystopian future, it’s not a bestselling Young Adult novel nowadays. Our youth have an insatiable appetite for trilogies which pitch mere children against harsh, unforgiving adult worlds from which they must save the day. The Hunger Games caught fire while Divergent, Insurgent, Regurgitant (whatever) reaped dollars. If you’re a budding author, you’d be foolish not to jump on the bandwagon.
The Maze Runner has therefore inevitably been rendered screen-worthy, and though its plot is devastatingly simple, its mechanics are perfect for a visual medium.
Thomas (Dylan O’Brien), our chiselled, amnesiac protagonist, wakes up just as he is being plonked into a strange land peopled solely by teenage boys of a Disneylandish multiculturalism. Unable to recall anything of his previous life, Thomas’s revelations become the viewer’s as he explores his new captivity – a green, forested area enclosed by a massive concrete maze which changes configuration every night so that these Lost Boys will remain ever thus. Determined to break the boundaries set by the overbearing camp leader (played by Will Poulter from Narnia’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader and Hollywood’s We’re the Millers), Thomas vies to set everyone free.
This is the first feature for director Wes Ball who has forged a film career as a graphics artist while making short films as a warm-up lap. Perhaps not coincidentally, it’s the aesthetic which is most effective in conveying this relatable nightmare on screen: that of being chased by some unknown evil through skyscraper height Tetris blocks which will squash you if you make a wrong move.
There are the usual character types (the friendly black guy, the sullen leader fearful of being usurped, the cheeky chubby kid) and the customary routines which ensure survival of the fittest. However, The Maze Runner ups the traditional ante by being surprisingly brutal (a pitiless eviction is genuinely chilling) and despite the simple plot still manages to be nicely atmospheric. With truly gripping escapes and the eking out of information – we’re never any wiser than the unwitting boys – this is a worthy competitor for the youth dollar.