Ryan Murphy has been known to deliver some of the most ghastly imagery on television through FX’s American Horror Story, but he’s walking in a completely different shadow of darkness for his upcoming HBO film The Normal Heart, which focuses on the spread of AIDS through New York City in the early 1980s. We now have a new look at the gripping drama, seen above, though it doesn’t really do more than show off the impressive central cast.

Mark Ruffalo hulks out on homophobic people as Ned Weeks, a writer and gay activist who begins promoting awareness about the then-unnamed disease in a city and country that want to hear nothing of it, all while starting a relationship with New York Times writer Felix Turner, played by White Collar’s Matt Bomer. Ned’s organization finds a president in the calm and cautious Bruce Niles (Taylor Kitsch), and tensions escalate between him and the more affronting and outspoken Ned. Julia Roberts stars as Dr. Emma Brookner, a polio survivor who fought to bring awareness of the virus to the medical community. Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons reprises his stage role of Tommy Boatwright, a fellow activist and leader of a health crisis group.

One gets the feeling from watching this preview, via EW, that someone made a very specific choice not to mention AIDS at all, in the same way The Walking Dead intentionally doesn’t mention zombies. I might have been fooled into thinking this was some kind of a medical thriller if I wasn’t already familiar with the source material. That said, it looks like a good medical thriller, so I suppose that makes it a success, and I"m grateful there's an intensity here that AIDS dramas don't always rely on.

The Normal Heart is Murphy’s third film, his follow-up to 2010’s Eat, Pray, Love, and Is an adaptation of Larry Kramer’s acclaimed and Tony Award-winning play of the same name. As the story it tells is mostly autobiographical, it’s encouraging that Kramer also wrote the screenplay for the filmed version. Authenticity helps. It’s never easy to gauge the quality of a Murphy project before it airs, but The Normal Heart is obviously a somber step in a more mature direction. I don’t think there will be any glee clubs or voodoo queens in this one.

Watch it on HBO on Sunday, May 25. For another short, tense look at the film, check out the video below.

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