Seen at the Sydney Underground Film Festival
One of the most fascinating kinds of film is the twin film, a movie where one actor is tasked with playing 2 or more roles. There’s always just something exciting about seeing one actor trying to give off performances that are distinct enough that we can tell who is who while also looking identical. This is the kind of thing that’s been done for years, like any time they revive The Parent Trap or in something as recent as this year’s Samaritan where there needed to be two versions of Stallone in order to pull off the dramatic twist in the final act. It’s a great tool that, if used well, can make for something genuinely amazing… or at very least it can be a great display for the actor taking on the multiple roles.
Dual takes place in a theoretical future where science has perfected cloning, but only allows it to be used for those who are about to die. The idea is simple, if you are diagnosed with some form of terminal illness then you can be cloned and have the clone take over your life, so in essence, you will still be there to take care of your loved ones and handle all your long-term obligations. You spend your last few days teaching your clone how to be you and then when you die, they take over… however, should you take part in this procedure and then somehow survive your terminal illness you will be forced to take part in a televised battle to the death with your clone as only one version of you can be allowed to exist long term. This is the exact situation that Sarah (Karen Gillan) finds herself in and hopefully, with the help of her trainer Trent (Aaron Paul), she’ll be able to beat her clone and return to her normal life.
Dual is an odd film due to its complete and utter commitment to being as deadpan as humanly possible. With the exception of a single outburst, every character delivers every single line in a dead-faced monotone voice with no emotional connection. Every action is done as though the actors are just machines going through the motions, moving around exactly as they’ve been told to do with no deviation or humanity. Everything that would make these characters human is stripped, leaving us with the bare-bones performances and the script… and somehow, it kinda works.
This choice to play everything in a completely emotionless state lets the script do the bulk of the work, and allows some of the more absurd comedic moments to hit even harder as the absurdity of them is laid out for all to see. The ideas of death, depression and loneliness aren’t so much suggested as they are slammed hard on the table in front of you while a character points to it and says, “We’re talking about death now, got it?” and it works because of how blunt Dual is. It doesn’t want to bother with nuance or subtlety, it’s as straightforward as could be like the world was filled with strange robots in flesh suits that want just the facts of the situation and nothing more.
This intense monotone decision could lead to a film that’s absolutely unwatchable, and for some it absolutely will be. It’s the kind of choice that you will either absolutely go along with or you’ll reject completely within seconds of Dual starting, there’s no middle ground here. If you’re annoyed by the monotone delivery within the first 15 minutes, you will never adjust to it so put it aside and come back later if you think it will ever get better… but if you’re into it, if you can get through the strange monotone delivery then what’s left is a gloriously weird funny film.
Despite Dual being largely about a clone, it spends a vast majority of the time just focusing on Sarah and her preparation for the big duel to the death that Dual builds to. Even with Sarah giving us absolutely nothing in terms of emotion to go off, you still slowly get to know her as a person and even root for her to somehow make it through this absolutely insane scenario she’s found herself in. Even while being completely emotionless, she still has moments of real heartbreak or even potential flirty romance that somehow works despite the complete monotone.
OK it’s not actually a shock that you end up loving Sarah so completely, it’s because Karen Gillan is insanely talented and turns out a genuinely fascinating performance. Even within the boundaries of the blank-slate style of acting that she’s been asked to do, Karen manages to find the little things that make Sarah interesting. Even though she might not deliver a punchline with the vocal emphasis that one might expect, the timing of when she’ll throw the line out will absolutely sell every joke. The acting choices that have clearly been thrust upon the actors by the director are genuinely insane and should not work, but Karen in particular is making it work and everyone is trying desperately to keep up with her.
Dual is not going to be a complete crowd pleaser, it’s a weird idea with a bizarre style full of jokes that are structured so strangely that trying to explain why they work feels like trying to explain to a doorknob how you make Swiss cheese. If you get in the right headspace Dual can be a lot of fun, there are some genuinely hilarious moments and performances that are absolutely unlike anything that you’ve ever seen before (at least, never done intentionally) which makes for a fun experience. However, if you aren’t fully on board with the central creative choice then Dual is going to drag and bore you to tears, it never drops the gimmick (except for maybe one moment when the main character has a breakdown while driving) and it’s a gimmick built around being bland so it’s going to make the film feel bland. Still worth checking out, just be prepared for it to potentially fall exceptionally flat.