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SXSW 2022 review: DMZ is a thrilling series carried by its emotional moments

production still from DMZ
Rosario Dawson stars as the lead character Alma in DMZ. Pic credit: WarnerMedia

New to HBO Max is the dystopian limited series DMZ, based on the comic book with the same name by Brian Wood and Riccardo Burchielli. Starring Rosario Dawson and Benjamin Bratt in leading roles, the show is an emotional journey filled with masterful camerawork and performances and a solid amount of tearjerker scenes.

At its core is a story about mass destruction and the longing for a place to call home, but beyond that is a rage fest filled with gory jump scares, top-notch fight scenes, and amazing douchebaggery by Bratt. Is this series worth a watch? Continue reading our review to find out.

What is DMZ?

DMZ premiered its first episode at 2022 SXSW on March 13 at the Paramount Theater. All four episodes of the series have since been released, debuting on the streaming platform on March 17. Created by Roberto Patino and produced by Ava DuVernay, it is a fast-paced story that follows single mother Alma (Dawson) and her journey to find her son amid Manhattan’s demilitarization and the depletion of America.

The lingering question asks, “Is it too late?” After extensive planning, Alma embarks on a timed expedition into the city with the assistance of her tough-as-nails confidant.

The mother is warned that if she doesn’t return back to their entry point at the set time, she’s as good as dead. However, that doesn’t stop her from lending her skills to the local understaffed clinic and individuals in the underserved community.

Little to her knowledge, Alma’s son Skel (Miyares) has entered a life of crime after being reunited with his prison-escapee father, Parco (Bratt). The two run the borough’s most influential and dangerous gang. While in the debuting episodes, Skel is only shown through a few unchallenging scenes, Parco’s brutality is dialed up to 100, and the two make an unstoppable match for the city that’s in desperate need of leadership.

The criminal is shown pinning his son against a group of vigilantes as they fight for dominance amid a local political run, which has framed Parco as a leading candidate. The juxtaposition between Alma’s heart-driven premise and kind-heartedness —working in the medical field— and the antics of Parco and Skel is enough to break hearts and keep its viewers on the edge of their seats.

However, the icing on the cake is the short-lasted friendship between Alma and a tired Manhattanite nurse Rose, played by Mamie Gummer, and the flashes into the life of child Odi (Jordan Preston Carter) — a young boy whose elderly companion is pressuring him to find a new, more reliable home. While underutilized, the two deliver unforgettable performances that’ll tug on the hearts of anybody who is willing to watch.

production still from DMZ
Benjamin Bratt stars in DMZ as Parco. Pic credit: WarnerMedia

Should you stream DMZ?

DMZ has something for everybody, yet it doesn’t feel like a story that’s already been told. With its intense fighting sequences, heartfelt story about familial love, and backdrop of a city in ruins, the series is a show-stopping masterpiece about being powerful and powerless.

The action-packed show isn’t afraid to get unattractive, both in its plot and creative choices. While it’s impossible for Dawson to be made ugly, the show doesn’t glamorize Alma’s battle. It shows her with undone braids, a bruised body, and her face void of heavy make-up.

Every actor featured in the show gives memorable performances, and the story unfolds at a steady tempo, refusing to let its viewers get lost in the messiness of the situation. While it avoids giving all of the answers upfront, DMZ doesn’t leave anybody waiting. By the end of Episode 1, the direction of the series is crystal clear, a refreshing break from the outpour of limited series that overstay their welcomes.

Despite the debuting episode leaving many questions unanswered about the state of America and how it got there, it leaves fans secure in Alma’s battle and personhood. With DMZ’s unbreakable protagonist and its much-needed message of hope and love, the future of this fictional universe is limitless.

Be sure to check our our 2022 SXSW reviews for To Leslie and Spin Me Round.

DMZ is currently streaming on HBO Max.

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