So many debates rampage through our lives, encompassing hugely important facets of the day-to-day, and our continued reliance and fascination with technology is just one of them. A mere four decades ago almost to the day that the Internet was born, we have moved closer and closer to the moment Arnold Schwarzenegger will be sent to kill/protect John Connor and the Rise of the Machines. We kid of course (a little) but the technological advances since that day in 1983 have been stark and have many ask the “next steps” question. One of those, of course, is the life-changing dilemmas of cloning and how we’d react to such a thing when it happens. For his third film, writer-director Riley Sterns examines such questions and not only offers a stark warning but also looks at the absurdity of it all in Dual.
In the not-too-distant future, a young woman named Sara begins to have some medical issues and discovers that she has a terminal illness that 98% of patients succumb to (100% really but margin of error and all that). Deciding to shield her family from grief, she sets her mind on a revolutionary procedure to have herself cloned and spend her remaining weeks/months training the clone to be just like her so she can ultimately take her place when she passes. Sara, though, miraculously recovers and by laws of the future society, she and her clone must fight each other to the death to decide who “becomes” her.
While it starts with an exciting, mysterious opening that is better left for viewing than being spoiled here, Dual feels very static and precise in its design and cinematography but it’s all on purpose. Everything feels straightforward and definitive, counter-balancing the seemingly chaotic nature of the world with a slow, calculated yet still gorgeously realised atmosphere that in turn matches the deadpan satirical current that runs through the entire film. Similar to his debut (2014’s underrated Faults), Stearns isn’t after too much showmanship – though that isn’t to say his work isn’t distinctive nor brilliantly realised – such things are simply the frame surrounding the intriguing, interpretive picture at the centre.
That’s where Sterns truly shines – taking inspiration from the work of Yorgos Lanthimos and the “Greek Weird Wave” that has now nestled snugly amongst the cinema world as a whole. This is sci-fi but not as we know it. No laser beams, no vast metropolis, just both frightening and remarkable future of technology, our relationships with it and how our lives are led by it, and how humanity would react to such leaps of faith, all told with a satirical, deadpan edge that helps highlight both brilliantly and gives the film a strange, otherworldly quality befitting its tone.
Such choices may not be to everyone’s taste but stick with it and there are bountiful joys of both the reflective and humorous to be had, not least for a spellbinding central turn from Karen Gillan who continues her ascent. She’s the perfect vessel and in two noticeably different roles, she excels and showcases her talents behind the Marvel realms once more with undoubtedly her best turn to date. Also, she’s an ace at Hip-Hop dancing (yes, there’s Hip-Hop dancing).
Sci-Fi, Thriller | USA, 2022 | 15 | Sky Cinema Original | 5th June 2022 (UK) | Dir. Riley Sterns | Karen Gillan, Aaron Paul, Beulah Koale, Theo James