The low, grumbling whine of the elevator creaking to life is the first sound to permeate the darkness that begins The Maze Runner. When Thomas wakes up, he’s in unfamiliar surroundings, trapped within a caged confine and lacking any memories of who he was prior to this moment. When daylight finally breaks in, he’s being hauled out into the light, surrounded by young men of similar age, all of them standing in an idyllic pastorale called The Glade. On all sides are the towering, monolithic walls of the Maze, a labyrinth that cuts them off from any other form of civilization. This is the terse but effective set-up for what ends up being a strong new contender in the young adult dystopia genre, a sturdy and thrilling drama that diminishes early turgid world-building in favor of a ‘boy’s own’ adventure atmosphere.
Based off the novel by James Dashner, that borrowed several pages from Rod Serling and William Golding, the film version of The Maze Runner benefits from a streamlined and low-tech approach to its science fiction. First-timer Wes Ball directs the film with an unforced sense of urgency and uses his background in animation to cleverly establish the harrowing geography of both the Glade and its ominous dangers, as well as the mysterious confines of the Maze, harboring giant monsters that defend its inner corridors. The way Ball uses Dashner’s hit-the-ground-running introduction to dodge the overly familiar monologuing of many YA fantasy endeavors is admirable; there’s a sense of mystery and uncertainty intact, and this allows the audience to relate to Thomas’ own confusion and curiosity.