Imagine yourself in a world where society has broken down due to a worldwide pandemic. There are no longer people to enforce laws and the resulting chaos from government collapse yields separate factions where the humans are more terrifying than the monsters. Welcome to the world of The Last of Us.
The Last of Us is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed games ever released on PlayStation 3. It’s cinematic quality and harrowing story pulled in millions of gamers to experience Joel and Ellie’s trek through a desolate, post-apocalyptic American landscape. The beauty and horror is juxtaposed so well that one minute you’re crying and the next you’re screaming. Except with the new trailer for The Last of Us: Part II, it’s all screaming.
The trailer comes off as more of a film than a video game trailer and that’s one thing The Last of Us does so well. It blurs the line between film, literature, and video games, meshing them all together so that, at times, it very much feels like a movie, a novel, it’s own entity really. You could easily see it as the first five minutes of a story or even a harrowing climax in the middle.
The trailer begins with the camera slowly dollying upward, showing us a dark night in the middle of a thunderstorm, the trees full of leaves and streaks of lightning zigzagging across the sky. The music immediately sets an ominous tone and as the camera pans downward, we see two men in hooded cloaks – lit only by torchlight – dragging a woman between them, who appears to be unconscious.
At first glance, everyone thinks this is Ellie. She seems to look like her and has a similar build, but when the men drop her to the ground, we see it is not her.
This has led to speculation that it could be Ellie’s mother, because of their similarities, but it also could be a completely new character. It was a very good move by their creative team to not center this on Joel or Ellie because it shows that even with the main characters absent from the trailer, it still has a harrowing effect while simultaneously immersing the audience into their terrifying world, showing them who the real monsters are: humans.
The camera is always moving in this scene and there are never any cuts, mimicking a single-shot sequence in film. This gives the audience the feel that this is all happening in real time and makes them feel complicit, as if they are a witness, just watching, horrified and yet able to do nothing. This technique is particularly effective when the camera pans up from the Ellie lookalike and shows us three men, hanging by nooses. It immediately skyrockets the stakes with this simple tilt, showing the audience that death is a very real outcome here.
As if confirming this thought, the Ellie lookalike is strung up and given a bucket to stand on with her tiptoes, an interrogation beginning that shows us these hooded figures, a man and a scarred woman, who appears to be the leader, are probably part of some cult. The scarred woman says “They are nested with sin,” as if speaking scripture, before pulling out a knife and pressing it to the Ellie lookalike’s stomach, “Free them, so that they may now -”
A whistle in the distance suddenly cuts her off. She stops and turns and two men in their raincoats drag a woman over to her referred to as Yara.
The scarred woman questions her about “apostates” which is, again, another reference to religion, hinting that they are some kind of cult, obviously with people who have tried to leave their faith. When Yara refuses to give the information, the scarred woman commands, “Clip her wings.”
This is when things get brutal and violent, showing the audience what these people are really capable of. The two men pin Yara down, with the help of the scarred woman, before one of the men stretches out her arm and beats it with a hammer, the arm bloody and broken, the sounds and images visceral and mesmerising.
The other man aims to do the same with her other arm before two arrows take him in the chest and face. In the resulting confusion, Yara grabs the hammer and swings it into the other man’s neck, blood spurting like a fountain, and the scarred woman backs up and pulls out a revolver, preparing to shoot Yara, before an arrow barely misses her. She aims into the darkness and fires, before she turns to see Yara walking toward her with the hammer. The scarred woman goes to fire, backing up, but she is grabbed by Ellie lookalike’s legs, still hanging from the tree, and is strangled by her, with Yara giving her the coup de grâce with a hammer claw to the temple.
The major factor in this sequence that causes it to be so suspenseful, so harrowing, is the single-shot sequence. Obscuring the events is so effective because while you are being shown one thing, you are still thinking about where the camera just was and what’s going on with that. The camera panning away, following other characters in the midst of it, allows the creators to hide and present information the way they want to, upping the suspense for the audience as they sit enraptured on the edge of their seats, awaiting the outcome of this bloody confrontation.
When the scarred woman is dead, the Ellie lookalike loses her bucket and begins to slowly choke to death, her legs kicking as she hangs from the tree. A young boy referred to as Lev comes out with a bow and an arrow notched, and informs Yara, “Demons are coming.”
At this point, the audience has seen the humans act as demons, so the fact that something could be coming worse than them is an immediate hook. The sequence would be perfect for the beginning of a film because it introduces the story in media res, baiting the audience and dangling more just out of sight.
At this point, Lev cuts the Ellie lookalike down at Yara’s command. The Ellie lookalike scrambles over to the scarred woman and yanks the hammer out of her head, facing the chilling noises that come from the darkness. “Watch your backs,” she says, as the camera dips down to the bloody hammer clenched in her fist, while a cluster of Infected tears out of the darkness, screeching and thirsty for blood. Not only is this a brilliant segment that acts as a short film, but it leaves the audience thirsting for more, craving to play and find out what happens next.
As Neil Druckman, creative director and lead writer of the franchise, has said that the first game focused on love, he has also said that a major theme for The Last of Us: Part II will be focused on hate. With this trailer, we get a glimpse of what could be the result of what seems, based on the first trailer, Ellie’s bloody quest for revenge against those that have wronged her, presented to us in a beautiful new game engine that makes The Last of Us: Part II look like it’s headed to be Naughty Dog’s best game yet.