Geschrieben am 1. März 2023 von für Crimemag, CrimeMag März 2023

Nick Kolakowski: Smoking Gun (14) – Zombies, alive

‘The Last of Us’: Crime in the Post-Apocalypse 

I thought the world would have tired of zombie narratives by this point.

But “The Last of Us,” the new show on HBO, is rapidly becoming a genuine hit. Based on a bestselling video game, the series centers on a taciturn smuggler (played with growling, almost Eastwood-style charisma by Pedro Pascal) as he escorts a snarky teenage girl (played by Bella Ramsey) across the wasteland that was once the United States. Along the way, they must fend off people infected with a mysterious fungus who seem to only want to eat anyone unlucky enough to stumble upon them.  

For years, I was an avid fan of the AMC series “The Walking Dead,” which followed a similar crew of hard-bitten survivors trying to make their way to safe haven through the zombie apocalypse. But “The Walking Dead” overstayed its welcome, its narrative following into a stultifying pattern: the survivors would reach a new town or village and settle in, then spend the next ten or twenty episodes trying to fend off a rival gang or an especially large horde of zombies. Eventually, their safe space would collapse, forcing them onto the road again. 

„The Last Of Us“ © [2022] Home Box Office, Inc. All rights reserved

“The Last of Us” may avoid such a fate, especially if the creators decide to cap the narrative at three or four seasons (“The Walking Dead” ran for twelve years before it was finally put out of its misery, and its spin-offs may continue for many years yet). I’m not terribly interested in the show’s ravenous “clickers” and “shamblers” (as the zombies are called), but Pascal’s character fascinates me. Remove the apocalyptic trappings, and he’d fit right into a traditional crime narrative: the wary smuggler with the secret heart of gold, always suspecting those around him of imminent betrayal. (If you’ve played the game, you also know he’ll eventually face some of the bleakest, bloodiest existential conundrums this side of a Jim Thompson novel.)

As a crime thriller, “The Last of Us” is actually much more suspenseful than some other recent examples of the genre, including “Kaleidoscope,” the eight-episode heist epic on Netflix that manages to traffic in every single noir cliché, from double-crossing partners in crime to a Mexican standoff in a warehouse. Even recent, competently made crime films like “Ambulance” and “Emily the Criminal” feel rather rote, as if their creators were more interested in playing to the genre’s greatest hits than subverting expectations. It’s a similar situation with “Glass Onion,” which plays like a highly enjoyable, comedic cover of an Agatha Christie (or maybe John Dickson Carr) mystery. 

By contrast, the crime elements in “The Last of Us”—the smuggling, the back-alley negotiations, the desperation—feel fresher, likely because they’re mixed liberally with elements from the sci-fi and horror genres. Last year’s “The Batman” managed to do something similar, blending superhero elements with two separate crime subgenres (the serial killer thriller; the mob boss epic) to create something more than the sum of its parts. Like a mutating fungus in a post-apocalyptic landscape, it seems like crime tropes are finding new, more interesting life in other genres.

Nick Kolakowski is the author of „Maxine Unleashes Doomsday“ and „Boise Longpig Hunting Club“ as well as the Love & Bullets trilogy of novellas. His noir fiction has appeared in Tough, ThugLit, Mystery Tribune, Plots With Guns, and various anthologies. Brandnew: his „Payback is Forever“ (Shotgun Honey 2022), inspired clearly by the novels of Richard Stark. Our review here (in German). – Just out: Hell of a Mess. A Love & Bullets Hookup.

Nick Kolakowski, geboren 1980, aufgewachsen in Washington. D.C., hat Geschichte in Chicago studiert. Er schreibt Romane, Kurzgeschichten, Lyrik und Essays, viele davon über Crime Fiction und verwandte Themen. Seine Texte erscheinen u. a. in der Washington Post, in Shotgun Honey, North American Review, The Evergreen Review, Rust & Months. Kolakowski lebt in New York City. Eine Besprechung des von Parker inspirierten „Payback is Forever“ in unseren Bloody Chops.

Bei Suhrkamp auf Deutsch: Love & Bullets.
His essays with us

His column „Smoking Gun“ with us: 
What Made “Glass Onion” and “Knives Out” So Popular?
Jordan Harper’s One-Two Punch of Crime Fiction Deserves a Wide Audience
‘True Detective’ Season 2: Was It Better Than We All Thought?
From ‘Touch of Evil’ to ‘True Detective,’ Long Shots are Crime Films’ Secret Weapon
Michael Mann, again: What Michael Mann Teaches Us About Enduring Crime Fiction
„Heat 2“ – How Do You Craft a Sequel to a Masterpiece?
4 Ways Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” Novel Stands Out From the Film.
On „Heat“: Manhunter Takes Down Thief: How Michael Mann’s Early Career Led to ‘Heat’
The Most Honest Nihilism – on „The Way of the Gun“
No, Time to Die – The latest James Bond movie digs into the fatalism at the iconic spy’s core.
Cormac McCarthy’s Overlooked Masterpiece? – „The Councelor“
Nightmare Alley“ – How Guillermo del Toro’s Film Alters a Masterpiece Noir Novel
David Cronenberg – The Carnal Crime of “A History of Violence” and “Eastern Promises”
With Parker, Donald E. Westlake Pulled Off Crime Fiction’s Most Spectacular Magic Trick
Guy Ritchie’s Return to Crime Films is Worth Watching

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