Existential Sci-fi Horror Dual (2022) Wrestles with Identity and Bureaucracy
First Non-Festival Release: March 18, 2022 (Theatrical Release)
Director: Riley Stearns
Writer: Riley Stearns
Runtime: 94 Minutes
Starring: Karen Gillan, Aaron Paul, Beulah Koale, Theo James
Where to Watch: Check out where to find it here
Lonely and meandering Sarah (Karen Gillan) has been given the devastating news that she is afflicted with a rare terminal illness that will take her life sometime soon. To prepare for her impending death, she signs up to have herself cloned so her likeness can carry on for her family’s sake. After following through and taking months to train her double, she is told that she has made an unexpected full recovery. She relays the news to everyone but not only is her double unphased, neither is her husband (Beulah Koale) or her mother (Maija Paunio). Due to a technicality, Sarah must battle with her clone in one year to win the right to live as Sarah.
Poignant and eerie sci-fi film Dual offers brutal commentary and hit-and-miss comedy with dystopian premise.
The insanity behind the premise of Dual makes for an intriguing story that touches on a variety of issues that are both provocative and timely. Minimalist sci-fi drama with hints of horror and comedy throughout, the story captivates on its novel premise and slow-burn approach to its content. While the cloning aspect is clearly the draw for audiences, the real triumph behind Dual is its focus on crafting Sarah and her clone as compelling characters. The titular Dual adds fuel to the fire of Sarah’s already crumbling life.
Before the Dual, Sarah already has some issues with life. When we first meet her, she is sitting home alone miserably watching porn and gorging herself on fast food. Sarah’s relationship with her husband is strained to say the least and she avoids her mother as much as possible. When she originally confronts her imminent death, she is hardly phased. As time goes on and she gets used to the idea that she will die, true acceptance gets easier for her. That is true, until she learns that she truly won’t die and must battle to the death with her clone who has decided she would like to stay.
As the film goes on, Sarah is developed in a way that showcases the true origin of her problems. Sarah’s blunt demeanor and interesting vocal patterns cause issues for her in her personal life. She loathes connecting with her mother, who reminds her of her perceived inadequacies and pushes her husband away through her behavior. This all despite her true affection for both people. When her double comes along and seemingly connects much better with both of her loved ones, this kills something within Sarah.
On her journey to train for the battle between the clones, Sarah discovers a newfound will to live. Her determination to live her life comes from a newfound hope that only arises after experiencing freedom from her humdrum life. By taking combat and dance classes, getting in shape, and getting her affairs in order, she regains agency in her narrative rather than letting life pass her by. She starts fighting for herself and not for a life that has long been gone from her control. She has always wanted to live; she just didn’t want to live her old life.
Much of Dual falls on the shoulders of the immensely talented Karen Gillan. Her performance as both Sarah and her double gives viewers the chance to deconstruct her life from multiple angles. The changes between Sarah and her double are small but meaningful. Her double is livelier, more knowledgeable, and overall, more compatible with those in her life. These differences are most profound in her physicality and vocal inflections which even get pointed out by her completely disinterested husband.
Complex themes and social commentary elevate the film to new heights. From the get-go the society that Sarah lives in is clearly failing. First, the healthcare system creates problems by misdiagnosing Sarah and refuses to take accountability for her “full remission” despite her condition being deemed incurable. The predatory cloning agency doesn’t disclose the full consequences of cloning including the dualling procedures. Inevitably this leads to Sarah being forced to partake in an unnecessarily grueling and cruel ritual. Government oversight and bureaucratic overreach prolongs the proceedings and forces Sarah to pay for the mistakes that others made when leading her to make the initial cloning decision. All of this ties in with the theme of identity, which is clearly represented through Sarah’s battle with herself, albeit two versions of herself.
Where Dual fails most noticeably is its unique brand of off-the-wall comedy. Focusing on inappropriate circumstances and deadpan dialogue, much of it feels out of place and awkward within the film. There’s plenty, of course, to poke fun at when considering its heavy criticism of government overreach, the failures of the healthcare system, and society’s view of death. Much of the humor, however, comes at the expense of Sarah’s character and of silly subplots or moments that offer little importance to the plot. Because the comedy isn’t as pointed at the actual themes of the film, it feels more like filler to get between the beats of the story and ultimately tonally inconsistent.
An odd film for sure, Dual succeeds at subverting expectations on how a concept like this can be executed. Karen Gillan’s nuanced performance gives insight to how both versions of Sarah feel about their ordeal, humanizing them despite the circumstances. Insightful commentary leads way to interesting conversations long after the film that make it more than just a novelty. While it does lean into some unimpressive comedy and stumbles in its storytelling once or twice, it is an altogether competent and engaging film, perfect for those seeking out oddities. Not many films can duplicate the experience that Dual can provide, so make the effort to catch it when you can.
Overall Score? 6.5/10