Dual is a nifty near-future sci-fi that starts with an interesting and obviously satirical premise and elevates it to make comments on the dire state of personal interactivity. It’s well-trodden territory for this genre, but writer/director Riley Stearns (The Art of Self-Defense) still finds original ways to keep his audience laughing, entertained, and on their toes.
Drawing potential comparisons to Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and then to the popular film adaptations of The Hunger Games, Dual features a well-respected company that specializes in an outrageous concept – creating personal replacements for people facing impending doom. The replacement trains alongside the individual to gain knowledge on how to flawlessly take over their life. When the mentor “moves on”, the clone steps in to avoid any strife or possible guilt for friends and family.
Sarah (Karen Gillan) is referred to the service after finding out she’s sick with a rare disease that will almost certainly end in death. Her replacement (also played by Gillan with seamless split-screen effects) pays close attention to Sarah, but is loyal and perceptive to a fault. In amusingly awkward scenes, the replacement is practically showing Sarah the door before the disease has taken hold of her. When Sarah’s fate turns around though, an override protocol is implemented that entails the mentor and the replacement to face off against each other in a fight to the death.
Dual is fittingly deadpan but, like Sarah’s replacement, the film is committed to its execution to a fault. In Stearns’ previous feature, The Art of Self-Defense, there was always someone present to make slightly snide remarks about the absurdity at foot. Same goes with 2020’s Twilight Zone-inspired thriller Vivarium. The latter wasn’t written or directed by Stearns, but the voice of reason in both of those movies was Jesse Eisenberg. There isn’t anyone as droll or aware as Eisenberg’s characters in those movies, and I missed that in Dual. Mind you, that deadpan approach could relate to a subtle narrative arc about how frequent this replacement service has been used before Sarah’s experience. But still, the deadpan is so remarkably dry, you may miss some jokes on a first viewing. However, Dual hooks movie goers by showing them how a face off between a clone and their counterpart would work, and uses that anticipation to build towards the climax between Sarah and her replacement.
Gillan (redeeming herself from Netflix’s disastrous pandemic comedy The Bubble) is great in her dual role and is able to separate the characters while still finding the common ground and reminding people of the risks Sarah’s been forced to take. Aaron Paul (of TVs Breaking Bad and the underrated action flick Need for Speed) appears briefly as Sarah’s trainer who is experienced in squaring off against clones. Both actors are skilled with straight-faced deliveries, and finding the slivers of space to drive home Stearns’ wry dialogue in this very clever movie.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie