What happens in a world where you find out you’re going to die and create a clone of yourself, only to find out that you’re miraculously healed? Obviously, it means a fight to the death. In Riley Stearns’ third feature film, Dual, Karen Gillan’s Sarah is diagnosed with a rare and incurable disease (99% fatality!) and commissions for a clone of herself to be made for her loved ones. In this near future, people who are about to die can create their own clones, known as a replacement, and teach the clone how to live. However, the clone is only biologically similar. It could easily have a different personality, different tastes, and your friends and family might even like them better.
Such is her dilemma when she miraculously fights her illness but her boyfriend (Beulah Koale) and her mother prefer her replacement. Because only one person can exist, the customary resolution is a fight to the death. Stearns navigates the reality of a mildly-horrific near-future with funny deadpan satire. Gillan is brilliant as Sarah, who begins ruthlessly training for her duel to the death, hiring a coach named Trent (Aaron Paul) to help her prepare to kill someone who looks exactly like her.
Gillan and Paul have amazing chemistry as the leads, with Paul’s Trent taking her training deathly serious despite the rundown gym and confusing tactics, like getting her to watch gory films to acclimate her to the blood. While their performances may seem wooden at times, it’s clearly intentional and heighten the satirical nature of their conversations. It all culminates in a fantastic dance sequence where Sarah teaches Trent how to dance to hip hop music in exchange for paying for her classes.
While neither of the leads is exactly pushing themselves in their roles, in fact, they seem to feel natural as Trent and Sarah, their scenes hold the largest impact charismatically. But, even though Paul has top billing in the movie, he doesn’t appear nearly enough to justify it. Gillan and Koale have disappointing chemistry, and though he plays well as Sarah’s reluctant boyfriend, he is unconvincing as Sarah’s Double’s new boyfriend.
The most interesting concept is Sarah’s relationship with her double. Although the double is supposed to look like her, she’s skinnier, younger, her eyes are a different color, and she acts nothing like Sarah. The fact that the two are severed early on in the film and only have a few scenes together (Gillan is a surprising great scene partner with herself). It feels like we are approaching some kind of revelation in the third act cuts until it is short. Coming in at 95 minutes, Stearns story moves at a clip and it leaves you wanting more, feeling unresolved in the final moments.
This film review was based on the premiere at Sundance Film Festival 2022. Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.