There’s a unique subgenre of films that feature a character waking up in an unknown location with no memory of how they came to be there. This concept is most often utilized in horror films like Saw and Cube, but The Maze Runner (based on the young adult novel of the same name) also utilizes this setup. Like the characters in the film, we as an audience don’t know how these people came to wake up in this strange area and that’s what makes the film consistently engrossing. It’s certainly not the most well-made film, but it does manage to avoid most of the clichés that films based on young adult novels fall victim to.  It’s like a futuristic version of Lord of the Flies, filled with mystery, intrigue and a surprising amount of suspense.

A young man (Dylan O’Brien) wakes up in a rising industrial elevator, unsure of his name, location, or how he came to be there. When the elevator reaches the surface, the man is welcomed into a community of young men who have been placed in the middle of an intricate and seemingly inescapable maze. They live together in a small commune, only receiving a limited number of supplies through the elevator. The young man soon remembers that his name was Thomas, but this is the only aspect of his past that comes back to him. Thomas begins asking questions to Alby (Aml Ameen), the group’s leader, and other members of the group who tell him that the entrance to the maze is only open during the daytime and that dangerous creatures named Grievers patrol the maze during the night. As more people are attacked by these creatures, Thomas begins investigating what they are and who put them there. His search for answers may lead them out of the maze, but it may also put them in more danger than ever before.

Adapting from James Dashner’s novel, screenwriters Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers and T.S. Nowlin do a fine job at establishing these characters and the situation that they’ve been placed in. None of the performances in the film standout, but the young ensemble does a respectable job of giving their characters just enough personality for us to care about them. And it’s a good thing that we’re somewhat invested in what happens to them because it makes some of the more important scenes in the film’s climactic moments all the more impactful. Not every major character lives to see the end credits, which feels completely refreshing at a time when studios are always too afraid to kill someone off because of the desire to have them appear in future sequels.

In his feature length directorial debut, Wes Ball shows some common amateur characteristics, but he also has a solid hold on the material and this could hint at the possibility of him producing some even better work in the future. The action scenes that take place at night are often hard to follow, which is a shame because some of the sequences with the Grievers should have been standout moments in the film. But these sequences still work because the threat to the characters feels very real and the creatures are always interesting to watch. One of the best scenes in the film occurs when two characters are racing to get out of the maze before the large doors shut, which would seal them inside the maze for the duration of the night. It’s quite suspenseful and another character’s attempt to squeeze through the closing doors will have you squirming in your seat. It’s scenes like this that make Ball seem like a talented director who could potentially make future installments in the series just as solid as this one.

However, it’s the film’s ending that makes it seem as if future installments will fail to live up to this one. Its final scenes are some of the least interesting in the entire movie and they feel far too similar to other film adaptations of young adult novels. The setup for the sequels and the answers that it provides to the questions provoked by this film are mostly uninteresting and uninspired. Still, there’s a lot to enjoy here and most of the major problems in the film can be overlooked.. Unlike most films aimed at a teenage audience, it doesn’t force a dull romantic subplot down our throats and it moves along at such a quick pace that there’s no time to pick apart the mystery and any potential problems that arise from it. The Maze Runner is an example of a book-to-film adaptation done right.

The Maze Runner receives 3/4

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