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The Horror of Dolores Roach is Laughing With Us

Doesn’t it seem like cannibalism is having a moment? The ultimate taboo is powering productions as varied as “Yellowjackets,” “Dahmer,” and “Bones and All,” and now it’s taking over Prime Video via “The Horror of Dolores Roach.” The fear of people eating people is both current and a tale as old as time.

In the case of “Dolores Roach,” it’s about ten years old. That’s how long creator Aaron Mark has been refining this story, first as a play, then as a podcast, and now as an eight-part series starring the always formidable Justina Machado as the titular serial character and Alejandro Hernandez as Luis Batista, her unlikely benefactor.

The TV version starts off slow, focusing on character development and building a sense of place. We’re in the Washington Heights of today, a famously Latino neighborhood gentrified to the point where only a few local businesses are left. Even the drug dealers have changed, but they’re still there, mostly serving a white professional class.

So when Dolores returns to her old neighborhood after serving 16 years in prison for possession with intent to distribute (and assaulting an officer), she quickly becomes desperate for anything familiar. Having inherited his father’s empanada shop, Luis fits the bill, offering her a place to stay and creepy but useful devotion.

Dolores tries to do right for a while, which is the reason for the slow plotting. All the build-up makes her first murder mean something. And the one after that. And the one after that. We know from the beginning that she’s going to become an infamous serial killer. While nothing in the early chapters makes that seem implausible, those first few episodes establish her humanity. They show us the other paths she could have taken and how difficult they would have been.

That said, the show really takes off as Dolores ramps up her body count. It gets funnier and grislier as it gets more extreme. For example, in the first half of the season, Dolores and the audience are spared the nasty details of how exactly Luis is disposing of her victims. And when the answer is viscerally revealed … well, it’s about as gross as you can imagine. Maybe worse.

And that makes the climax feel all the more earned. As things spiral out of Dolores’ control, the chaos around her becomes intense—she’s snapping necks, picking fights, and burning the whole thing down. Machado excels in this role, toggling between the willfully ignorant girlfriend to the violence-addicted mistress of her own destiny.

It’s a complete descent into madness, and while “The Horror of Dolores Roach” is certainly dark—it spends a fair amount of time in a basement after all—it’s also funny with Machado exhibiting her characteristic physical humor. Hernandez assists with a simmering nervous energy that’s ready to boil over.

The character actors also do a great job with Jean Yoon playing the delightfully annoying neighbor Joy, Judy Reyes running the block and needling Dolores as Marcie, Ilan Eskenazi as the clueless nepo-baby landlord Jonah, and Kita Updike as the embodiment of GenZ mannerisms, realities, and frustrations in Nellie.

But the show's best part is wondering how far these characters will go, seeing them push past all common sense and decency. Dolores and Luis are bundles of contradictions, making them funny, humorous, and dangerous. They’re like someone you know until they aren’t. And the sense that they are standing on a precipice, about to tip into crazy cannibalism, is provocative, to say the least.

The series clearly has fun playing with that line, putting normality and extremity in conversation and asking the audience to root both for and against its leads. A playful show about a serial killer, "The Horror of Dolores Roach" gets its frights by not taking itself too seriously.

The whole series was screened for review. "The Horror of Dolores Roach" premieres today on Prime Video.

Cristina Escobar

Cristina Escobar is the co-founder of LatinaMedia.Co, a digital publication uplifting Latina and gender non-conforming Latinx perspectives in media.

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