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HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ review: Dreading the fungus among us

Carljoe Javier

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HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ review: Dreading the fungus among us

The Last of Us' Instagram page

The hefty pilot episode gives a lot of a story and a strong statement that this series adaptation is committed to its thematic aspirations

MANILA, Philippines – If you’re a video game fan, even if you haven’t played it, you know that The Last of Us is one of the most celebrated games. It is a truly immersive experience with one of the most unforgettable stories. So on this front, there’s a lot of expectation from the fanbase. And if you don’t play video games, then this show, starring Pedro Pascal (playing yet another Lone Wolf protector) and Bella Ramsey (Cub), coming in at a time slot that’s reserved for HBO’s big hitters, co-created by Craig Mazin who made the mind-blowing Chernobyl should still be of interest as one of the year’s big releases. And if the first episode we were screened is any indication, then this is going to deliver all that fans have loved about the game and more.

So if you’re just here asking, should I watch this show, then I won’t keep you any longer. Yes, watch this first episode, which runs just short of an hour and a half. I’ll put forward that I’m not a super fan of the game in the way that others might claim. In fact, I tried to pick it up at some time early in the pandemic. It hit a little too close to what we were going through, isolated, desperate, feeling lost, struggling. And after a few hours of play, I had to quit. It wasn’t just “too soon.” It was: I could barely live through pandemic life, why would I want to escape into an even worse pandemic?

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WATCH: HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ gets a chilling first trailer

WATCH: HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ gets a chilling first trailer

I came back to the game recently, played through, and enjoyed it. And here’s the thing I keep thinking about. It’s basically a post-apocalyptic zombie game. And post-apocalyptic zombie games are a dime a dozen. As are post-apocalyptic zombie movies. It could be argued that after superheroes, it’s one of the most saturated genres. So why do we need this? Why now? Why this specific series?

What the game got right, and what the series aspires to now, is to use the trappings of the post-apocalypse to speak about human relationships under the most intense of stresses. The novelty of the game wasn’t that the zombies were particularly cool or innovative. But that it was underpinned by the story of a man who thought he was long broken, suddenly confronted with a way to maybe change or evolve from that brokenness.

One of the things I appreciated was that Mazin, alongside series co-creator Neil Druckmann who also wrote the game, take a lot of time with world-building. This thing doesn’t throw shrieking zombie things at you immediately just to freak you out and get you hooked. No, it’s something much more subtle. Mazin, who did creeping sense of dread so well with the aforementioned Chernobyl, brings the same energy but with a fresh flavor here. It’s the subtlety and restraint in some moments that make the explosive scenes even more impactful. And the willingness to build layer upon layer of the reality so that we feel like we are truly engrossed in this world. Of course, because we are engrossed, we feel the same sense of “no escape” and desperation that the characters feel too.

We begin with a TV show interview set in the late 60s where a scientist posits that more dangerous than bacteria or viruses is the possibility that some fungus would attempt to attack and take control of humans. Then we jump forward in time to a seemingly normal day in the early 00s. But a day where in the background we hear news reports about violent attacks. In addition, we get some ominous imagery and really well paced suspense building us up to the eventual apocalyptic moment. If I were to reveal anything more about the story, I’d be spoiling things for potential viewers.

What I’ve described to you sounds pretty standard for a story like this. Some kind of infection. Some characters to latch onto. And a survival story amidst the apocalypse. I think what the show gets right then is that it has such a strong focus on how the story is told. The visual language, the deliberate shots and sequences establishing how the world functions, the willingness to let moments unfold.

This is a hefty pilot. We get a lot of story and a strong statement that this is a series that is committed not necessarily to the specifics of its source material, but rather to its thematic aspirations. If it’s any indication of what’s to come, then we are looking forward to something that won’t just be one of the best (maybe the best?) video game adaptations, but a truly standout series that shows that there’s still a lot of life in the zombie genre. – Rappler.com

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