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DUAL (2022) review

April 21, 2022


written by: Riley Stearns
produced by: Maxime Cottray, Nick Spicer, and Riley Stearns
directed by: Riley Stearns
rated: Rated R (for violent content, some sexual content, language and graphic nudity)
runtime: 95 min.
U.S. release date: January 22, 2022 (Sundance) & April 15, 2020 (theatrical)


How would you fare in a duel to the death against yourself? If you knew you had a terminal illness and you could duplicate yourself to save your loved ones the pain of your loss, would you do it? Those seem to be two completely different odd questions, but both of them have to do with the examination of identity and mortality in “Dual”, a satirical sci-fi dark comedy from Riley Stearns, who last gave us the 2019 comedy “The Art of Self-Defense”. It’s not lost that such concepts are explored while we’re still going through a pandemic (depending on who you ask, of course), or that it’s a coincidence that last year’s “Swan Song” also explored the idea of a man getting to know his clone, or himself, before he died, which was more of a serious affair. How we look at life and our longevity had been on our minds, even before COVID. These questions and ideas can be more interesting when a certain amount of silliness is applied. Writer/director Stearns (who also co-produces) applies his idiosyncratic touch to the story of “Dual” and delivers a mostly captivating narrative, except for some third-act decisions that wind up being unfulfilling.

The opening of “Dual” however, is quite an attention grabber. We see an outdoor setting, what looks like a high school football field with viewers in the risers watching what seem to be two players on opposite ends of the field. We begin to notice that cameras are on the men and in front of each of them is a table with a variety of weapons to choose from, as the intensity of the situation occurs. One man, Robert (Theo James), grabs a crossbow and begins firing at the other man, who has overturned his table, using as a shield. The other man charges in zig-zag fashion, armed with a dagger and the inevitable altercation leaves Robert dead, realizing his doppelganger has killed him. The audience cheers and we are wondering what kind of Twilight Zone is this film entering. Is this a post-apocalyptic or near-future environment? Are twins being forced to kill each other off? Again, very intriguing right from the start.



Then we meet Sarah (Karen Gillan), a young woman who has a dry, deadpan affect and talks with an unemotive delivery. She spends most of her days on her own, since her boyfriend, Peter (Beulah Koale) is often away on work assignments. She seems unaffected by just about everything and tries to avoid encounters with or phone calls by her mother (Maija Paunio). One day, after a night of heavy drinking, she awakens with blood all over herself, which brings her to a nearby hospital where a curious doctor informs her she has an incurable terminal disease. She has days or weeks to live. Since she is typically unaffecting by anything, Sarah is unsure what to do with such news. She hears about a local cloning facility which caters to such situations and decides to visit out of curiosity. They tell her she can order a “replacement” of herself, a genetically identical clone who will live with her until she dies, picking up on all her traits and quirks until one day fully replacing her. It’s unclear why, but she agrees to have this done and in no time she is staring at herself with no mirror in sight.

Ten months go by (so much for the prognosis) of living with her clone, when Sarah gets a call from the doctor telling her she suddenly no longer has a terminal disease and she is going to be just fine. Now the obvious question is what is she going to do with her clone. The question becomes more of a problem, when Sarah realizes her double has become a better Sarah than Sarah. Her boyfriend likes her more and she spends time with her mother, so clearly her mother enjoys this clone more. What is the original Sarah to do?

At some point this must have happened to others and sure enough Sarah learns of a legal recourse called Termination (makes sense), wherein a clone must battle to the death against his or her original in public. If the original wins they remain the original. If the duplicate wins, it’s bye-bye to the original and no one will know the difference. That’s why Stearns calls this “Dual” instead of “Duel”. Alright, maybe you arrived at that many sentences ago, but just tolerate me a bit longer and congrats to you. Still, imagine the implications for either of them. I mean, either way they killed themselves and after a while that’s got to take a toll.



A reinvigorated Sarah chooses to live and signs up for the Termination, which will take place in one year’s time. Gone is the ritual of fast food, porn, and alcohol, and instead she signs up for a survival course taught by combat trainer, Trent (a hilarious Aaron Paul), in order to get in to her best shape to best herself (sorry). Ironically, Sarah’s life has taken on new meaning, while her boyfriend has chosen her clone, literally telling Sarah that he finds her more interesting and that he doesn’t love her anymore. Ouch.

The most interesting aspect of “Dual” is how Stearns explores Sarah getting to know Sarah. It wasn’t until she meets her clone that Sarah finds a newfound strength from her downward spiral of a life. While it’s fun to see Gillan work with the material Stearns gives her, there are moments where her portrayal of Sarah feels a bit monotonous up until the time she decides to take her control of her life. It doesn’t feel like someone would truly talk or act like Sarah does. It just doesn’t seem real, it feels like a bit and with no real reason. But, once she begins her training, it’s fun to see this new Sarah, especially the way in which Gillan and Paul interact with each other. That’s primarily because Paul is having so much fun with this odd character. We’re not sure whether or not to take Trent seriously, but Paul definitely is and there’s fun in that. The entire second act is filled with Sarah and Trent working together to get her mentally and physically prepare to kill herself. Some of the exercises Trent provides gives us some serious “What would I do?” moments, while others simply provide some dark silly humor.

Overall, the science behind the cloning and the medical stuff that Stearns presents is wonky, but it’s the kind of sloppy sci-fi that still offers some fascinating “what-if” questions to consider. The third act Stearns offers a surprise that isn’t necessarily fulfilling after all that the story has been leading to, but I’ll give him credit for subverting our expectations. He chooses monotone comedy over audience satisfaction, and while that’s respectable and clever, there’s still something satisfying that could’ve been explored if he had followed certain expected steps.




RATING: **1/2



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