Justina Machado as Dolores Roach. Dolores looks through a window pane, her face half in red light and half in shadow.
ManOfTheCenturyMovie Tv ‘The Horror of Dolores Roach’ skillfully puts the audience in the shoes of a serial killer

‘The Horror of Dolores Roach’ skillfully puts the audience in the shoes of a serial killer

Justina Machado as Dolores Roach. Dolores looks through a window pane, her face half in red light and half in shadow.

Dolores Roach has been through a lot. So she has “The Horror of Dolores Roach”. The modern version of Sweeney Todd – crucially transposed into a genteel Washington Heights where any intruder who walks his poodle in a stroller honestly deserves whatever happens to him – began life as a solo work by Aaron Mark, starring Daphne Rubin-Vega. It was then produced as an audio fiction series Gimlet (also starring Rubin-Vega) before moving to Prime Video. But Mark had in mind specific emotional and thematic touchstones for each version of the story, ones that bring the different iterations of Dolores that much closer together.

It has always been important to Mark to create a sense of closeness to Dolores (Justina Machado in the Prime Video series, with Rubin-Vega now writing and executive producing) and guilt in the audience. Mark wanted the audience to feel that, in his specific circumstances, any of us would end up wringing the necks of a couple and letting the nice empanada guy upstairs do what he wanted with a body or two.

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“The game really is Great puppet horror on stage,” Mark told IndieWire. “It was intentionally claustrophobic, from start to finish. You are trapped in a room with Dolores. That’s the point. With the podcast, it’s whispering in your ear. So this whole thing is based on this very intensely focused intimacy that, for television, you have to use a different mechanism.

The mechanism Mark and his team discovered wasn’t the most obvious; it was structural. There isn’t a scene in “The Horror of Dolores Roach” where Dolores isn’t in it. The structure of the series – all from Dolors’ point of view – is intentionally claustrophobic. Perhaps the best line of the show is her decision to frame her story as Dolores tells how she became a true crime sensation to the actress playing her in a podcast stage adaptation.

Television is quite porous in terms of the amount of information we absorb second by second, even without realizing it. We glean insights into the characters’ emotions, personalities, and place in the world from how they walk, dress, and what’s around them. “What we can communicate with Justina’s face (in a moment) might require two paragraphs of dialogue in a podcast,” Mark said. But Mark and her team deliberately keep the world around Dolores narrow and desperate, forcing audiences to over-rely on her face and voice for context for how we should interpret this half-hour horror comedy. And it’s not always an even division.

Justina Machado (Dolores Roach)
“The Horror of Dolores Roach”Courtesy of Prime Video

“If the fundamental construct of the project is that you, dear viewer, are having the experience of becoming a serial killer, we need to be super aligned with this individual (who becomes a serial killer). It’s so unusual to have a TV show where there’s a character in every scene,” Mark said. “And certainly at times during development we were like, ‘Well, what would it look like in a visual medium if we didn’t have that?’ And it always felt like, yeah, we still went through the same foundational story, but there’s a piece of inextricable alignment that’s been lost.

The determination to always center Dolores has also centralized the show’s perspective on gentrification. “Gentrification (dramatizing) can easily become comically overblown. On the contrary, it can be so subtle that people don’t notice it at all. What if we can’t show a lot of footage of what Washington Heights actually was 15 years ago to communicate the differences? It’s an incredibly complicated thing,” Mark said. “So we relied not only on a team of production designers who would go to Washington Heights and be meticulous, but also on our cast. The challenge was about how we communicate through (Machado’s) shining face. Even if the viewer doesn’t visually understand how this neighborhood has changed, you do understand her impact on her.

Putting the show’s dramatic burden on the narrative structure and face of an actor makes “The Horror of Dolores Roach” feel closer to its iterations on stage and on podcast, where we cling much more to the characters because of what I cannot See. But in terms of visually expanding the world of “The Horror of Dolores Roach,” Mark stressed that the most important thing was always giving context to Dolores and her house that he sees slip away from her. “It was really important to me that the perspective of the show, that the neighborhood, never feel like an Other, never feel like, ‘Oh, we’re peeking at this thing,'” Mark said. “That’s what we’re connected to emotionally, and the love and celebration of that neighborhood and the community and the pride that I’ve found living there, that the people who live there feel.”

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