To put it plainly, I miss Yorgos Lanthimos. It's been three and a half years since his last black comedy, 'The Favourite', completely stole my heart with its shower of C-bombs and laughs that crept up at any moment. As such, I have found myself searching for projects that get as close to his humour as possible, and while Riley Stearns is a talented director in his own right, his most recent sci-fi satire project 'Dual' echoes Lanthimos' offbeat work in the best way.
In an unspecified future, Sarah (Karen Gillan, 'Thor: Love and Thunder', TV's 'Doctor Who') is in a rut. Her boyfriend Peter (Beulah Koale, 'Shadow in the Cloud') pays her little attention, her mother (Maija Paunio, 'Baby Jane') is smothering her, and the only friend she appears to have is the bottom of a bottle. However, after one day waking up in a pool of her own vomited blood, Sarah learns that she has a rare and incurable disease. Not willing to put her loved ones through the pain of her inevitable death, Sarah signs up to have herself genetically cloned, with the intention that her new double, simply known as Sarah's Double (also played by Gillan), will take her place when she passes. Somehow, Sarah's Double is more charming and outgoing than Sarah; her hair is shinier, her body is better, and both Peter and Sarah's mother most certainly seem to prefer the upgraded version, much to Sarah's chagrin. Somehow, Sarah's luck takes an even more ridiculous turn when she goes into an unlikely remission, and Sarah's Double doesn't seem too fond of the idea of being decommissioned. The law dictates that only one can live on, which is decided upon using a violent duel to the death, and Sarah must train to beat the version of her that seems superior in every way.
It's both unsurprising and unexpected just how good Karen Gillan is in this film. Given the tricky nature of deadpan comedy and the film's concept, it would be easy to play both Sarah and Sarah's Double in identical nuances, but Gillan imbues them both with such distinct character – and unique comedic timing – that they genuinely feel like real, distinct people. Even if the narrative skews in favour of Sarah, Gillan's performances ensures audiences can't help but find sympathy for her Double too (and disdain for the way Marvel Studios often kills the opportunities its actors get to regularly star in projects like this). Aaron Paul ('El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie') is also hilarious as Sarah's trainer Trent, a would-be slime ball whose subversion of such expectation makes for one of the film's biggest laughs.
It would be easy to play both Sarah and Sarah's Double in identical nuances, but Gillan imbues them both with such distinct character – and unique comedic timing – that they genuinely feel like real, distinct people.
Despite the cast being super game, 'Dual' leaves its thematic potential thoroughly untapped. It's a shame, because the concept is so interesting that I wanted it to go further. The fantastic opening scene starring Theo James (TV's 'The Time Traveler's Wife') suggests a dramatically different film than the one we get, one that intends on interrogating memory, perception, our legacy once we pass and the role technology plays in all if this, but that corner of the concept is all but dropped in favour of letting Gillan just do her thing. It's not necessarily a deal breaker, but it's frustrating nevertheless.
It's clear that 'Dual' has plenty of fantastic ideas it wants to explore, but it just doesn't seem to know what these are or how to get there, which leaves a lot more exploration to be desired. Despite this, Gillan's performances make 'Dual' a worthy and entertaining way to spend an evening.