'Dual' Doubles Down on Darkness and Humour

Directed by Riley Stearns

Starring Karen Gillan, Aaron Paul, Beulah Koale, Maija Paunio

Photo: Sundance Institute

BY Rachel HoPublished Apr 29, 2022

Dual is a darkly humoured science fiction film from Riley Stearns that considers, what if your family preferred your clone to you?

When Sarah (Karen Gillan) is diagnosed with a terminal illness, she decides to have a clone made of her so her husband (Beulah Koale) and mother (Maija Paunio) won't be without her. Sarah's Double is created and is meant to live with Sarah as part of the "imprinting" process. Sarah will carry on in her daily life with Sarah's Double learning her traits, mannerisms, likes and dislikes. 

During the imprinting period, it becomes clear that Sarah's (now-ex) husband and mother prefer the company of Sarah's Double, and look forward to when she will assume the role of Sarah proper. But when Sarah makes an unexpected recovery, Sarah's Double refuses to go through with the decommissioning process. Instead, Sarah's Double files for a duel — as, by the law of the land, an original and their double cannot exist together.

Riley Stearns creates a world so bleak (or maybe advanced?) that each event carried out in Dual is done with such coldness and so matter-of-factly that it's a bit disarming at first. However, if/when you settle into the world, it becomes downright hilarious. 

Gillan's portrayal of Sarah and Sarah's Double is so dry and devoid of emotion, viewers are partly waiting for a reveal to show that she's actually a robot. But in the context of Dual, her detachment and aloofness works well. As Sarah's Double, Gillan ratchets up the aloofness to include ignorance, innocence and a bit of menace distinguishing the two versions well.

What makes Dual work is its humour. Stearns finds a good blend between dry British humour and absurd American sensibilities to create a script that moves away from being strictly science fiction. A particular scene between Sarah and her trainer Trent (Aaron Paul), in which they simulate a duel, shows this balance well. The humorous beats between the two recall the idiocy of Dwight and Michael from The Office. And like Rainn Wilson and Steve Carrell, by playing it completely straight and serious, Paul and Gillan deliver.

The premise of Dual offers the potential for heartbreaking, existential crises among the characters. And while the ending offers an emotional breakthrough, the film as a whole doesn't do a deep dive into ideas of what it means to be human. Instead, it takes a satirical look at the genre and its often deconstructed concepts. This same pass could be used to forgive a few of the plot holes — namely, beyond being a bit weird, why exactly can't an original and double coexist?

Dual may be a hard sell for some. Neither Sarah nor Sarah's Double offer anything of merit to root for. The film generally lacks warmth of any kind and may be hard to connect to. But if your sense of humour leans towards the dark and silly, Dual should work for you.
(VVS Films)

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