This review is part of our coverage of the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
The Pitch: The timing of DMZ is maybe not the greatest, depending on whether or not you’re up for engaging with a story about urban warfare at a time when that sort of literal real-life horror is headline news. But the new HBO Max original series, based on the DC comics series and executive produced by Ava DuVernay, still stands out for its compelling premise and dynamic cast, despite a few issues largely stemming from its format.
New World Order: When we first meet Alma Ortega (Rosario Dawson) in the not-too-distant future, she’s working as a medic in an intake facility for those who have tried illegally to enter the United States of America — not to be confused with the Free States of America, because seven years ago, a new American civil war split the country as we know it apart, with the area known as New York City now declared a DMZ (demilitarized zone) between the two newly defined countries.
We don’t get much of a taste of Alma’s life in what technically remains the United States, because she almost immediately leaves it on a mission: to find her son Christian (played in flashbacks by Bryan Gael Guzman), from whom she was separated during Evacuation Day, the day when most New Yorkers fled the isle of Manhattan before it was walled off from the outside world.
Alma can’t find Christian in either the USA or the FSA, making the DMZ his most likely location, and so with help from a co-worker she sneaks into the forbidden zone, trying to stay alive in a relatively lawless society of those who stayed behind while hoping to track him down. There’s no political angle to this story; no understanding of the national fractures that led to this point. It’s all just about survival.