It's tough to be a teen in 2014. When your parents' generation went to the movies, they cracked up at sex comedies and John Hughes. Today, Hollywood wants you dead. Between Katniss's nightlock berries and The Giver's daily dulling injection, you can literally pick your poison.
In Wes Ball's The Maze Runner, a grim kiddie dystopia about a pack of boys who've woken up in the middle of a labyrinth with their memories wiped, the guys fear "being stung," an infection that turns the victim into a violent killer. According to leader Alby's (Aml Ameen) rules, the tribe must shove the stung into the Maze, a mechanical deathtrap filled with murderous metal spiders called Grievers and walls that shift so loudly that the sound design rattles the enamel off your teeth. A few members of the group have been selected as Runners, athletes who race through the halls trying to find the exit. The rest are content to stay safe in the center and accept their fate, even if that means expelling rebels who disrupt the status quo.
Is the true enemy this all-testosterone Lord of the Flies clan? Nah, faulting your fellow kids is so 1950s. For the millennials, adults gotta be to blame, even when we never see them. The Maze Runner is so bleak that it almost convinces us to take it seriously. Don't bother -- James Dashner's original novel makes a lot more sense. But Ball gets all the genre beats right: adrenaline escapes, a hazy anti-corporate cynicism, and a hero (Dylan O'Brien) who is assured from the start that he's Very Special. Hey, who cares if today's kids survive a movie, as long as their egos are intact.
Director: Wes Ball
Writer: Noah Oppenheim, Grant Pierce Myers, T.S. Nowlin and James Dashner
Producer: Ellen Goldsmith-Vein and Wyck Godfrey
Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Aml Ameen, Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Will Poulter