Director – Wes Ball
Cast – Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Will Poulter, Aml Ameen, Ki Hong Lee, Blake Cooper, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Will Poulter, Dexter Darden, Chris Sheffield, Joe Adler, Alexander Flores, Jacob Latimore, Randall D. Cunningham, Patricia Clarkson
Release Year – 2014
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Let me begin by stating that I had no intention of reviewing this film. I will say that I was intrigued when I first saw the initial trailer because of the mystery it posed regarding the maze. However, as I looked into the film I saw that it is based on a teeny novel and I immediately lost interest. I was bored last night and I saw this film On Demand so I figured I’d watch it for the sake of passing time. Well, much to my surprise, I enjoyed this effort and found it to be much more intense than the adolescent material it is based on. It’s not a horror film, per se, but it does have some solid elements of horror that cannot be ignored.
We follow Thomas, a young man who awakes in an elevator with no recollection of how he got there. He has been thrown into an enclosure known as “The Glade”, where 60 other boys have been trying to escape the surrounding maze since the first one arrived three years prior. When a young girl arrives with a strange note in her possession, strange occurrences erupt around them, and they are left with no choice but to face the horrors lurking within the maze.
I really enjoy stories like this where our protagonist is in the dark over what is going on, and so is the viewer. When Thomas arrives at The Glade he doesn’t know where he is, why he is there, or even who he is, and neither do we. Eventually the revelations come to light, and the more we learn the more we realize how dire his situation is. It is easy to place yourself in his shoes and imagine what you would do, and I was happy that the film engaged me like that. The screenplay is penned by three first-time writers and you wouldn’t be able to tell if I hadn’t told you so. This story moves at a brisk pace with each development coming at appropriate increments that result in a 113 minute film that never drags. The Maze Runner is a character-driven piece, with Thomas leading the way. It is obvious that he has a tie-in to what is going on, as his arrival brings unexpected highs and lows that shock the once tranquil community. He is not alone though, as there are several others who play important roles in the film. I was glad to see that there were many likable characters that were used to their full potential in aiding the story. These protagonists also play a significant role in keeping things fresh and engaging.
So what is up with the maze running? Here is how it works. Every thirty days a new boy is sent to the glade via an elevator that cannot return unless it is empty. There are also regular supply drops that provide the boys with the tools necessary to create a sustainable community where they live and eat off of the land. The elite are granted the opportunity to be “runners” – those who run within the maze and search for a way out. The door to the maze opens at dusk and closes again at dawn. After three years and some very detailed mapping…they still don’t know how to escape. Luckily for them, Thomas is here. The Glade has not always been peaceful, as many have died trying to escape and nobody has survived a night in the maze. Why haven’t they survived a night in the maze? The answer is why I am writing a review for this film.
Much to my surprise, this effort is heavy in my favorite horror sub-genre: creature horror. Deep within the maze lies an army of heinous arachnid-esque giants that either devour you, tear you to shreds, or sting you and inject an agonizing poison that is guaranteed to kill you. The boys refer to them as “Grievers”. At first the horror is subtle and the few kills we do come across early on happen behind closed doors (the maze) and we are left with the aftermath, if anything. I was expecting this given the film has an obvious “teen” element, but director Wes Ball had other plans. He decided that he wanted to up the ante and make this an effort that wouldn’t cater to the book’s target audience. It took a little while, but once the action got going during the film’s final act I saw what I had been waiting to see: carnage, bloody carnage. Ball’s direction of the horror is excellent, with terrifying creatures that do terrifying things to those unfortunate enough to fall victim to them. Keep in mind, these are supposed to be “kids”, so we are treated to some Battle Royale-esque taboos in watching minors killed in brutal fashion. Ball’s solid direction does not stop there, as this is also a visually engaging effort. He deserves the monumental amount of praise the film received for the sets used for The Glade and the maze. I can also credit the look of the film as one of the biggest reasons behind why I never lost focus even when nothing exciting was going on. The sets make it so easy to imagine yourself in The Glade and picture how you’d be doing things, and I have not had a film engage me this well since It Follows debuted five months ago. I must say, this was a great experience for someone who just wanted a film to help him fall asleep.
Overall, The Maze Runner isn’t devoutly horror, but fans of creature films shouldn’t pass this one over. Along with enjoyable horror comes incredible sets and a very engaging story that is already set to become a trilogy.