Film & TV

Young Stars of The Maze Runner Bring Dystopian Tale to Life

Darkness. Vision is consumed by darkness and the sound of knobs turning and metal clashing. Light flickers in, and things start to come into perspective. It's a lift; something is being carried up -- but to where? The screeching of a pulley is joined by the panting of a young boy, distraught and confused.

Suddenly, the doors open and a group of kids stands awaiting the nameless boy and the lot of supplies that come with him. One from the group, Gally, jumps into the container to welcome the new arrival: "Day one, Greenie, rise and shine."

A few panning shots of the scene and things become clear: The boys are trapped in the middle of an ever-changing maze.

"We wanted to set out for that to be the end result: the experience," says Dylan O'Brien, who plays the nameless, hyperventilating boy we later learn is called Thomas in The Maze Runner.

The audience is brought into this new world along with Thomas, and because his memory is initially wiped clean, it makes him the ideal blank canvas for viewers to project onto and connect with. His discoveries become ours as he travels through the unknown.

Adapted from the 2009 New York Times James Dashner bestseller of the same name,The Maze Runner can be been compared to other popular young-adult franchises such as The Hunger Games and Divergent, which also deal with a dystopian future in which a teenager needs to vindicate the human race. The concept here is simple enough: a group of kids stuck in a maze with the common objective of escaping.

As is typical of the genre, there is a larger conspiracy at play whilst the kids fight to survive. The portrayal of these scared, lost boys, however, is what makes this film stand out among the others. Much like William Golding's The Lord of the Flies, which served as an inspiration for Dashner, the entire story line is anchored by teens. No adults allowed.

In the short amount of time it took to film -- 42 days, or roughly eight weeks -- one would think that the young cast members were under a great deal of pressure to step into their roles and deliver worthwhile performances, especially because its leading lady, Kaya Scodelario (Skins), and leading male, O'Brien (Teen Wolf), hail from television backgrounds, where the production pace is much slower.

"It was good for us for [the filming] to be that quick as well, because we never lost the energy," says Scodelario, who plays the only girl in the glades, Teresa. "We never had a chance to get tired or get sick of it or get sick of each other; something was going to happen every day, and every day was a big day on set, whether it be a stunt or something cool."

People are usually surprised to hear that the film was shot so quickly, explains O'Brien, adding how "they just assume that it was a movie that took its time and had a lot of money and the luxury of a lot of time, but it wasn't.

"We were all really, really focused on just lifting the story from the page and executing it properly, because we all genuinely, genuinely loved it and thought it was cool."

The merry gang of maze runners and "gladers" is ultimately led by O'Brien's character and the misunderstood boy we might categorize as the "bad guy" (played by We're the Millers' funnyman Will Poulter) to Thomas' "good guy." Aside from the expected action and adventure aspect of the film, the story could not be told without the character relationships and how they played out on screen.

"I think people really thought that this movie wouldn't be very character-driven," Poulter says. Audiences might think the film would be "more about the action and the adventure of it -- and that's all there in abundance -- but what's awesome about this film too are the characters. People really tend to enjoy the character dynamic and how kind of well-formed they all are."

The cast was able to work together and flesh out the characters a few weeks before shooting, "and by the time we got on set, doing scenes with each other, we really felt like we knew [our character's] relationship[s] really well," adds Poulter regarding Gally's affiliation with Thomas.

Chiming in, O'Brien agrees that the characters and their relationships are what make The Maze Runner a unique film. The audience already knows it's going to get the action sequences, the wide shots to depict the scope of the world, and all the special effects, "but what makes it so special is that it is truly all about the characters and all about the relationships with these kids in this world... It became our responsibility to nail down those relationships and really understand our roles with each other."

The Maze Runner opens in theaters Friday, September 19.

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Carolina del Busto is a freelance writer for Miami New Times. She nurtured her love of words at Boston College before moving back home to Miami and has been covering arts and culture in the Magic City since 2013.

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