Written and Directed by Riley Stearns.
Starring Karen Gillan, Aaron Paul, Beulah Koale, Katariina Havukainen, Maija Paunio, Kris Gummerus, Andrei Alén, Sanna-June Hyde, and Donat Balaj.
A woman opts for a cloning procedure after she receives a terminal diagnosis but when she recovers her attempts to have her clone decommissioned fail, leading to a court-mandated duel to the death.
A deadpan dark comedy about clones inevitably fighting to the death? That sounds tantalizing and hard to misfire. Unfortunately for writer and director Riley Stearns, Dual winds up a mishmash of ideas that never coalesces into something biting, zany, or memorable outside of its final scene (and even by then, the message it’s giving has long been made clear). It’s also nowhere near as subversive as it seems to think it is, also not capitalizing on those acts of subversion to say anything of substance. More confounding is that some of those storytelling choices feel directly at odds with the dry tone and robotic line delivery direction given to Karen Gillan. She’s easily the best aspect of the movie and generates several grim laughs, but everything about the plot seems to be working against both of her performances.
Karen Gillan plays Sarah, a rather mundane woman who seems disconnected from both the world around her and her boyfriend (Beulah Koale), speaking to the latter who is away on a work project through video calls. She also comes across as agitated toward her mother (Maija Paunio) anytime she so much as wants to text, let alone meet up in person for dinner (there is some unsettling and imaginative visual imagery here, something that could have been more of for a more distinct and involving experience beyond Riley Stearns’ trademark idiosyncratic dialogue). There does appear to be a desire to be more lively and exciting; for example, it is strange that someone who spends free time watching haunted house poolside gang bang porn has the missionary position as a favorite for sex.
In the only other striking image here, one morning, Sarah wakes up with her face and bedsheets covered in blood, casually taking a shower unfazed as if this is all routine. When she is diagnosed with a terminal illness, she feels motivated. Even then, she’s not worried about dying, but more so how others will cope when she is gone. Hence, she takes up an offer to go through with an expensive scientific replacement clone for when she is gone.
The details don’t matter, as this is not a story that requires world-building (although for future technology, the life on display resembles modern times), but it is stated that only one version of a person may exist at a time with the only exception being a clone learning behavior from its dying original. Any other situation will result in the dismantling of the clone, or should the clone choose to pursue legal action, a fight to the death on live television glorified is a sporting event to determine who gets to live.
Sharing information does not go so well here, as Sarah’s double quickly becomes more likable and approachable in the eyes of her boyfriend and mother, swiftly escalating to the point where no one wants to be around the original. All of this only further motivates Sarah to push back and reclaim what’s hers, as if her life has some semblance of purpose now. Of course, this escalates to full-on survival mode once the double exercises its right to a duel.
The above is highly entertaining and accounts for roughly the first act of Dual. Sarah then begins training with a combat instructor (Aaron Paul), developing a dynamic that frankly never engages while also coming across as a bootleg version of Riley Stearns’ fantastic previous feature The Art of Self-Defense. And just when the third act teases to go somewhere interesting, it reverts to the basics of its concept in a way that cheats viewers looking both forward to the duel and those hoping for a surprise climax—no one watching Dual wins, even with Karen Gillan successfully operating on the bizarre and darkly comedic tonal wavelength. Admittedly, the final scene does make a cutting point (especially with its circular road), but the journey there disappoints.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com