The Last of Us Part 2 is a horror game and that’s why it hurts | Games – Eduinfo

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This article contains story details from throughout the game.

It’s the sound effects that really get to you. The strangulated gurgle of a slashed throat, the wet schlump of an axe hitting a skull, the gloopy splatter of a shotgun blast to the torso. For those coming to The Last of Us sequel expecting a dark, character-led drama, these gruesome noises, encountered in the first moments of combat, are an attention-grabbing reminder that this is first and foremost a horror series. After all, the original title ended on a horrific decision: in the midst of a deadly viral pandemic, troubled father figure Joel could either let a medical team dissect his surrogate daughter to discover a cure, or save her life and doom humanity. He chose the latter, murdering everyone in the operating theatre in the process.

This was a bleak, catastrophic conclusion, ripped straight from the zombie films of George Romero. And while the trailers for The Last of Us Part 2 depicted Ellie at a barn dance sharing a kiss with her girlfriend, it should have been clear this isn’t Life Is Strange. It was never going to be a hope-filled adventure story. Though there are several romantic relationships at its core, the Last of Us sequel depicts a pitiless universe where characters are locked into brutal cycles of revenge and savagery – a fact confirmed in the first hour of play when Joel is beaten to death by Abby, a character we later control.

It’s a statement of intent from Naughty Dog, a signal to the player that from now on, anything can happen. In his famous essay An Introduction to the American Horror Film, critic Robin Cook wrote: “Central to the effect and fascination of horror films is their fulfilment of our nightmare wish to smash the norms that oppress us and which our moral condition teaches us to revere.” Horror texts are by their nature, sadistic and transgressive. They challenge the conservative narrative diktat that evil should be punished, monsters destroyed and order restored.

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The Last of Us Part 2 on PlayStation 4



Pure horror experience … The Last of Us Part 2. Photograph: Naughty Dog

And Part 2 is, if anything, more of a pure horror experience than the original game, abolishing the promise of escape and burying the characters in its apocalyptic reality. Joel’s killing start sets Ellie on a destructive, bloody quest for retribution through a ruined Seattle inhabited by vicious, warring factions. Here already, Naughty Dog is mixing various horror tropes. Ellie begins as the classic vengeful victim, an archetype dragged from 1970s exploitation flicks such as The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave, arming herself with improvised weapons and bludgeoning her way through escalating set pieces.

Against her, beyond the obvious zombie-like infected, stand two survivor factions, inhabiting different areas of Seattle. The Wolves are a militarised community, operating out of a converted football stadium, where soldiers are trained and drilled with deadly efficiency. This is the dystopian police state of Battle Royale, Soylent Green and A Clockwork Orange, as dehumanising and desperate as the infected monsters themselves. Then there are the Seraphites, a tribe-like religious cult that rejects technology and hides out in Seattle’s overgrown parks. The scene where Ellie is stalked by its hunters while they whistle to each other in the dark, deadly crossbow arrows singing out of nowhere, is a chilling piece of rural horror, channelling the same primal fears as Deliverance, The Hills Have Eyes and Southern Comfort.

And while there are moments of incredible beauty in the scenes of skyscrapers, strip malls and convention centres reclaimed by nature, there is always something rotten and pungent beneath it all. It’s no coincidence that the game often resembles the early Resident Evil titles in its environmental design. Long sections take place in pulverised subway stations, festering sewers and blood-splattered cellars, with players having to slowly pick their way through collapsed industrial substrata and eviscerated underground trains. Original Resi designer Shinji Mikami wanted his characters to descend from civilisation into a sort of living hell, a ruined netherworld inhabited by monstrous human mutants. This is where Ellie is headed too.




Michael Myers in Halloween, played by Tony Moran



Alienation … subverting the player’s POV creates the video game equivalent of seeing the world through the eyes of Michael Myers in Halloween. Photograph: Falcon International/Allstar

Within this, the Last of Us Part 2 also has parallels with occult horror cinema, not just in its obvious depiction of the Seraphites as a supernatural ritualistic tribe, a la The Wicker Man, but in its fascination with the experience of the female body. There is Abby’s muscularity, Ellie’s bruised and scarred torso, the two pregnant characters: like Carrie, like The Exorcist, this is a story in which the femme body is employed not as a sex object to be gazed at but as a means of exploring and symbolising female interiority under extreme duress.

The way the game toys with player agency and perspective, the way it gives and takes away control, has proved controversial with some players, especially in the moments where it involves killing major characters. But in these moments, Naughty Dog is creating its own video game variation on a key convention of horror cinema: point-of-view camerawork. In the slasher movies of the 1980s, directors such as John Carpenter, Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper would regularly shoot stalking and killing scenes from the POV of the killer, thereby dislocating and disorientating the viewer’s relationship with the protagonists. The Last of Us Part 2 is a game all about POV and control – and the horror that arises when these are challenged or lost. As players we inhabit the body of “enemy” character Abby, and we take part in battles where we’re given no control over the outcome. The alienation this causes is the video game equivalent of Gone Girl’s masterful mid-point switch, or suddenly seeing the world through the eyes of Michael Myers. As Carol Clover points out in her seminal study of gender and horror, Men, Women and Chainsaws, it’s not about identifying with the baddie, it’s about tearing down the whole idea of identification.

People rarely change in horror fiction – they follow instincts and enact rituals until they meet their doom. Ellie’s inability to divert from her quest for blood gradually reveals her, not as a victim, but as a vengeful demonic entity, as ceaseless and uncompromising as the ghostly onryō of Japanese folk horror. She is the monster. It’s a testament to Naughty Dog’s storytelling that she does, despite all the subversive conventions the game explores, get a redemptive arc – though it is long and costly and shrewdly ambiguous.

It is kind of incredible that Sony has chosen to close the PlayStation 4 era with such a colossally expensive and tragically beautiful peon to nihilism, terror and, most shockingly of all, forgiveness. It ensures that this great console goes out not on a bang, or a whimper, but on the sounds of bones and hearts breaking.


Source: theguardian
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