'Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials': Why Its Horror Scenes Barely Escaped an R-Rating

Richard Foreman Jr./Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
'Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials'

"We're so stuck in our ways as a society, especially in Hollywood," said Kaya Scodelario at the YA sequel's premiere. "I like that we're doing something different, and if that pisses some people off, then I like it even more."

"Gotta keep moving" is a line repeated often in Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, and the Fox film overall occasionally travels to unfamiliar territory.

"It's scarier than the first one — the second act is like a horror movie," Dylan O'Brien told The Hollywood Reporter at the film’s premiere on Tuesday in New York City. His character, Thomas, led a group of young boys to escape a mysterious labyrinth that turned out to be a scientific experiment in the original film. Released last year and specifically targeting young male audiences, the franchise-launcher based on James Dashner’s young-adult book trilogy grossed $340 million worldwide.

The sequel — which hits theaters Friday and also features Giancarlo Esposito and Patricia Clarkson — sees the crew exploring the Scorch, a desert wasteland rampant with plague-infected, zombie-like, aggressively homicidal "Cranks" that shame the giant, robotic spiders of the Maze Runner’s Glade. Much "more visceral and in-your-face" than author Dashner said he imagined, these villainous characters (decorated in prosthetics and CGI in postproduction) make the movie "way darker and scarier than we ever thought it would be," said Dexter Darden. "Even though we know they're stunt guys, they're still horrifying." Franchise newcomer Rosa Salazar, a self-professed horror fan, added, "They’re f—ed up."

Wes Ball — long admiring the genre blend of action, horror, sci-fi and survival story in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend — explained his thriller’s borrowed elements. "It's still an adventure movie, but there are a few action sequences that are on the edge of being horror," the director told THR of the discovery, chase and fight scenes. "It's not just a rehash of the first one. ... [Horror] was a fun new genre for me to play in with these characters."

Ball said he wasn’t directing particularly for the (pre)teenage ticketholder — "I certainly didn't make it as a YA thing, I just made it as a movie, and young people are in it," he said — and the film just barely escaped its initial R-rating (it is rated PG-13).

"With YA, we gotta keep finding things that are original," said producer Wyck Godfrey of surprising viewers, pointing to his three teenage sons. "They want things that are as dangerous and as scary as they can get, and still be allowed to go see the movie. Our audience from last year has grown up a little bit, so they need a little bit more of a grown-up movie." Thomas Brodie-Sangster added, "It's giving teens the respect they deserve."

Kaya Scodelario welcomes the sequel’s genre variety, and hopes it isn’t just a single occurrence. "We're so stuck in our ways as a society, especially in Hollywood," she said in response to confused critics. "Everything is so one-sided and done one way. No one wants to see the same movie for the rest of their lives. I like that we're doing something different, and if that pisses some people off, then I like it even more."

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