Science fiction and comedy are great tools to raise the lens on society and show the flaws in how we think. It is easier to poke fun at a spaceship that is doomed to fail by greed than it is to take the world we live in and show just how broken things really are. This is what Riley Stearns (The Art of Self-Defense) new film, Dual, tries to do, and despite some great ideas, the execution leaves a lot to be desired.
Set in a strange world where cloning is commonplace, Sarah (Karen Gillan) discovers she has an incurable illness that leaves her with only a few months to live. With this horrible news, she makes the obvious decision to get a copy of herself to help ease the blow of her unexpected death. This means her mother (Maija Paunio) and boyfriend (Beulah Koale) will not suffer when she finally dies.
The only issue is, her strange illness goes into total remission with no notice, and she finds herself stuck with two versions of herself, meaning one will have to be killed. In this world, if you are stuck with a clone of yourself, only one is allowed to live, and if the clone will not go of their own free will, a fight to the death is the only recourse. This also means it will be broadcast to everyone, since why have a fight if the public is not allowed to tune in.
The premise is interesting, and there is so much to explore in this world. How did society get to the point of allowing cloning, and why did a brutal one-on-one fight become the best way to settle clone identity issues. These are ideas that, as a society, feel important, and ones that are made for exploration in cinema, especially comedy. The only issue is it was very hard to connect with the characters, the concept or the story due to the way it was all delivered.
“There are some fantastic ideas in Dual…”
It is hard to look at Dual without looking at the director and intent of the film. At first glance, the choice to give everyone a deadpan, disconnected delivery feels off-putting, especially on first viewing. It is so jarring, that I honestly had to confirm it was supposed to be a comedy as I was watching it all unfold. The problems and issues feel very human, but when the characters’ barley seem to care that they are dying, or that the world is broken, it is hard for me as the audience to care.
That is not to say everything fell short of expectations, Aaron Paul (Breaking Bad) as a defence coach to help Sarah train to take on her doppelgänger, was a great addition to the cast. He brought a a sense of fun to the gloomy concept, and made for some of the films best scenes. He also managed to secure the concept that Dual was indeed a comedy. Karen Gillan as Sarah also worked well, and it is clear she brings her acting chops to the role, it just feels much of her range was wasted on the deadpan delivery she was forced to use for the majority of the film.
There are some fantastic ideas in Dual, exploring the concept of self and mortality, with some truly fantastic performances from some of Hollywood’s best talent, but beyond the interesting premise, the film struggles to work over its 94-minute runtime. Even the ending lacked the impact that it needed to really bring home the concept in a way that would work for audiences.
There is a lot to love with Dual, and for people that love satire, they may find this a masterpiece. For me, it just did not hit home as hard as it could have. The performances feel held back by a stylistic choice that did nothing for the story, and the brutal concept never felt real against a backdrop of boredom. Dual feels like a missed opportunity, one that has been explored better in other films, even if the cast brought their all to the roles they were given.