While the generic expression ‘young adult’ is one we witness frequently in the world of contemporary cinema, it can seem misrepresentative of the pictures labelled in such a genre. The likes of Divergent, The Hunger Games and now The Maze Runner are all dark, deranged and disquieting pictures, exploring mature, intriguing themes in the process. While the desired demographic may be that of a younger crowd, these pictures can be enjoyed by viewers of any age.
Wes Ball’s accomplished debut feature derives from the original novel by James Dashner, and focuses in, primarily, on the life of Thomas (Dylan O’Brien). However it seems that the audience know as much about this elusive figure as he does himself, as Thomas awakes in a lift, disorientated and without any knowledge as to how he got there. When arriving at the top he is greeted by a host of boys, all around his age, fervently anticipating his arrival. He’s the latest ‘Glader’; one of many to have awoken in this mysterious place, unsure of their whereabouts or motives. Thomas is befriended by Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and Alby (Aml Ameen), though doesn’t quite earn the affections of the volatile Gally (Will Poulter). However they must work as a team if they are to survive, and so a group of them set out into the treacherous maze that surrounds them, and keeps them locked in to this vicinity, as they risk coming face to face with the nefarious Grievers that block their path.
The opening scene sets the tone perfectly for what is in store for the audience, as it’s intense, suspenseful and ultimately, completely mysterious. We have no idea who Thomas is, how he got there, and why there’s already a group of boys living up in the Glade. It’s these questions that linger over much of the film, making it the compelling thriller it is. It helps to have such an elusive entry point too, as we see this world from his perspective, as he’s as baffled and bewildered as we are. Ball keeps the audience guessing throughout, asking so many questions as we strive to uncover the truth. Unfortunately, however, this is what leads to the film’s biggest shortcoming: the finale. When you seek answers for peace of mind and clarity, if you are fed underwhelming, evasive explanations, you’re left feeling unfulfilled.
While there remains a lot to be admired about this dark picture, that evidently takes pointers from the likes of The Lord of the Flies – sadly it’s too concerned with future projects, so intent on leaving this narrative open to serve the forthcoming sequels, this first endeavour doesn’t feel like a complete picture; it doesn’t feel whole. So perhaps at the end of the trilogy we may look back with a fond eye for this franchise, but for now, it feels wildly incomplete in an incredibly frustrating manner.