2022 | rated R | starring Karen Gillian, Aaron Paul | written & directed by Riley Stearns | 1 hr 34 mins |
Dual is a high concept movie that’s premise may attract sci-fi fans, but that’s a misnomer. It’s best to not go into the film thinking about clones and battle royales, but to think more along the lines of Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos, who established a signature style with Alps, Dogtooth, The Killing of a Sacred Deer and his masterpiece The Lobster. In Dual, writer/director Riley Stearns (The Art of Self Defense, Faults) does a very good Yorgos Lanthimos impression, folding in that filmmaker’s trademark mix of deadpan humor, social autism, dark comedy and satire.
In the near future, cloning technology has perfected to a point where those that receive a diagnosis for a fatal illness can clone themselves for the benefit of your surviving family. This is exactly what happens when Sarah (Karen Gillian), is diagnosed with an incurable disease and decides to clone herself for her husband (Beulah Koale). However, when the disease goes into remission and Sarah is going to live, her clone refuses to be decommission and husband decides he likes Clone Karen better, forcing a court mandated dual to the death to decide which Karen gets to keep her life.
Like The Lobster and Alps, Dual exists into an adjacent world that’s just a bit wackier than ours, with a unique opportunity that solves a social issue that leads to even bigger problems and an entire world that seems to exist with no emotion or inflection. This becomes more clear as Sarah prepares for the dual – the bulk of the film – hiring Trent (Aaron Paul) to train her in all manner of combat, from gun handling to swordsmanship to grappling. More importantly, to get her desensitized to the idea of killing which they explore with a dryly funny, clinical approach. Sarah, her husband and her clone navigate around an unusual situation they are all too emotionally stunted to grapple with.
The movie really takes off in the scenes between Gillian and Paul – their “trade” for what she will give him when she runs out of money being a film highlight. For long stretches the film becomes a 2-hander between them. Earlier this year in The Bubble we finally got to see Gillian in a lead role but I wished for better material than what Judd Apatow had to offer. Dual is a much better movie and great showcase of her dry comic timing.
Small but effective, Dual brims with ideas that outsize it’s scope exploring them on a superficial level but still posing the questions and letting us thing. IT also has one of the better endings of the year, one that lands the film’s deadpan style and dark comedy perfectly. If you’re waiting for a new Yorgos Lanthimos movie, Dual will fit that bill just fine.