Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and GeeksHaveGame.
An Imitation of an Eccentric Film
Dual is a satirical sci-fi thriller and the latest film from Texas filmmaker Riley Stearns (Faults, The Art of Self-Defense). Sarah (Karen Gillan) is diagnosed with a terminal disease and is presented with a cloning procedure. The clone will take over Sarah’s life, making it seem like she never passed. The issue with Sarah’s condition is that it’s rare and doctors have no idea how much time she has left. She has to watch her clone live her life. After ten long months, her disease goes into remission and she makes a complete recovery. Since she is no longer dying, by law, two Sarahs can’t exist. So, in a year’s time, she and her clone must duel to the death to become the one, true Sarah.
Riley Stearns writes and directs films with an unusually dark and intensely dry sense of humor. Where The Art of Self-Defense is his funniest film to date, Dual has brief humorous moments, but is more of a subtle horror movie. It's a look at someone’s life literally exploding before their eyes and being taken over by someone who looks exactly like them.
Dual (Official Trailer)
The main issue with the film is the monotone delivery every character seems to have. It’s a trait that is common in all of Riley Stearns works, so it mostly feels like his specific writing style or specific director trademark. Aaron Paul receives secondary billing in the film, but has a minimal role as Sarah’s personal trainer. As Trent, even Aaron Paul is purposely wooden in his performance. The only person who really seems to show emotion is Sarah’s boyfriend, Peter (Beulah Koale).
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Karen Gillan is able to break away from that monotony briefly. Her performance is mostly very subtle with little to no emotional reactions to most things, but she has these quiet moments where she’s by herself in her car; driving with no one else around. Gillan just breaks down and starts crying, yells at the top of her lungs, or just shuts down completely. These little outbursts remind us that Sarah, in fact, isn’t a robot but has genuine, human emotion buried within her seemingly impenetrable exterior. Sarah seems to be going through the motions in the film and maybe is just used to life not going the way she'd like it to, but the fact that we see her in her most vulnerable state on more than one occasion is intriguing.
The beauty of the film is how what seems like a simple solution to a complex situation evolves into an out of control nightmare. The awkward part of Dual is that originals are supposed to spend time with their doubles so these clones can perfect the expressions and mannerisms of their original. With Sarah, it seems as though her clone is able to be the girlfriend Peter has always wanted while trying and doing things Sarah never could or was interested in. It’s Sarah’s life and you sympathize with her, but her clone was manufactured to take her place. After a certain amount of time, aborting or decommissioning the clone simply isn’t an option because the law states that they have just as much of a right to stay as the original.
With Dual, the story beats are a bit predictable but Karen Gillan’s purposely flat yet absorbing performance and the sheer thought of having to face yourself in a duel to the death while some clone imposter takes over your life make the film worthwhile. It’s definitely a different kind of film outside of the mainstream, but it also falls slightly short of expectations. Riley Stearns is capable of being funny and has proven that before in the past, but Dual fails to really capitalize on being laugh out loud funny. It’s an unorthodox twist on a familiar concept that attempts to dive into unexplored territory. However, Dual isn't able to fully immerse itself in the offbeat absurdities that tend to make Riley Stearns films so enjoyable.
© 2022 Chris Sawin