In Riley Stearns’ world, characters talk like robots. They deliver their lines in such a perfectly muted and stoic manner, that one is bound to get confused if these stories take place in the real world or an alternate universe altogether. Half of the reason why his movies work can be attributed to just that. The unique, pitch-black humor that he so seamlessly seeps into his weird and wild stories, always comes with more potent observations about the human conditions. The satirical underpinnings follow through in his latest feature “Dual” too.
Another black comedy at its core, “Dual” stars Karen Gillian as Sarah. An earnest, but lonely woman who spends most of her time either eating to her heart’s desire, drinking entire bottles of wine, or waiting for her boyfriend to talk to her about his day on a video call. He is a workaholic, who spends most of his time away from home, and Sarah is possibly feeling the void of him slowly slipping away from her.
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This seeping feeling that she can’t understand, makes her binge eat at times. Sometimes overcompensating for the lack of emotions she is feeling at the moment. However, this feeling of being unable to have a proper emotional response is further aggravated when she lands up in the hospital and is diagnosed with a fatal disease that has only a 2% chance of survival.
Since she can’t figure out what to do, she takes the doctor’s advice and checks in for this procedure of ‘Replacement,’ where a double (who is almost identical to her) will take her place in order to ease the pain of her closed ones before she dies. Note that the procedure only takes 1 hour, but training the double to be like her is an arduous task that she isn’t ready to take up just yet.
For Sarah, the procedure, however, means having to live with a live version of herself that is far better than what she is. This twin (which is cheekily named Sarah’s Double), starts taking her place in a fashion that she did not anticipate. And when another blunder in her life comes to the surface, she is forced to undergo a transformative journey into knowing herself for the first time in her life.
Now, Director Riley Stearns is well known for his deadpan humor and odd, often bizarre tales of contemporary satirical value. With Dual, he looks at a simple woman trapped in a system that exploits her every day. The themes also look at an incredibly misogynistic and selfish world where a woman is expected to be a certain way, without giving a single line of thought to the constant struggle she goes through to maintain a ‘perfect’ existence.
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The metaphors are pretty straightforward, but Stearns maintains his sharp, eccentric tone to keep us in a constant unsettling feeling of unease. The dig at the healthcare system coupled with the capitalistic satire makes Dual a double-edged sword that can’t be forgotten as ordinary.
It does feel like Stears throws everything he has in his head on the wall and wishes that it sticks. Thankfully, a lot of it does, courtesy to Karen Gillian’s dedicated performance as Sarah. There’s not a shred of a doubt that most of it also lands due to the excellent writing and witty dialogues, but Gillian flexes her acting muscles to such an extent, that the oddness of the premise doesn’t feel like it’s slipping away from us.
This film’s flaws are to be found in its third act, like the other two Stearns movies. It feels like the director couldn’t maintain the excellent setup and proceedings of the first two acts into the third. While the third act, isn’t particularly all-over-the-place, the focus somehow shifts and the intensity feels a tad bit on the loose end.
Beneath it all, there are sharp observations about the human condition. The fact that Sarah has to fight her own clone in order to survive, is an excellent critic of the capitalistic system that exploits and replaces us like cogs in the wheel. And for that alone, Dual is a must-see.