The Movie “Dual” Is A Dark Comedy Clone Drama Starring Karen Gillan

(3 stars)

Set in a near future that bears a strong resemblance to the present, the sci-fi drama “Dual,” from writer-director Riley Stearns (“The Art of Self-Defense”), features such misfortunes as a terminal illness. , horrific kitchen accidents and the murder of a dog.

Did I mention it’s a comedy?

Karen Gillan (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) plays Sarah, a young woman who contracts a rare and incurable disease that gives her only a 2% chance of survival. Even before this medical setback, her life wasn’t great: With her boyfriend Peter (Beulah Koale) on a remote work assignment, she spent her time alone watching pornography and drinking generic alcohol in bottles labeled “whisky” and “IPA”.

So when a doctor tells Sarah she’s going to die in a few months, her answer isn’t so surprising: “Why am I not crying?

Sarah has the option of continuing – in some way – by means of a “replacement”. The procedure is expensive but simple: spit in a test tube, and an hour later your clone appears, ready to be trained in the details of your life, “so your loved ones don’t have to suffer your loss.”

“Here’s a pamphlet,” said Sarah’s doctor.

“Dual” is a gruesome cautionary tale, but it’s played out with dark humor. The macabre storytelling (and the heavily accented English of much of the supporting cast, which is largely Finnish) echoes Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ stilted dialogue and storylines (“The Murder of ‘a sacred deer’). But Sterns’ tone is drier, funnier — and, ultimately, warmer.

Sarah follows the procedure, but there is a catch – or two. Both her boyfriend and her mother love Sarah’s clone (also played by Gillan) more than Sarah. On top of that, Sarah goes into remission. In a case like this, when both the “original” and the cloned double want to stay alive, it’s mandatory that they face each other in a televised duel to the death. Unprepared to fight for her life, Sarah hires sparring trainer Trent (Aaron Paul) to help her train for the climactic battle.

The premise suggests a hybrid of Todd Haynes’ 1995 psychological drama “Safe” — about a housewife (Julianne Moore) who suffers from a mysterious illness — and the Hunger Games franchise.

What sets “Dual” apart is its tone of funny gallows humor. This approach is not for everyone; it takes a certain sensibility to find amusement in a gory (and hilarious) training video titled “You Always Kill The Ones You Love”. But Sterns also has a playful side, enrolling Sarah in a goofy hip-hop dance class to pass the time before her fateful duel.

The supporting cast is in tune with the particular rhythms of the film. But in her dual roles, Gillan makes the film her own, playing a divided self with sly restraint. At first, Sarah’s doppelganger is slightly more perky than she is, but Sarah comes into her own as she learns to stand up for herself, and in a particularly convoluted final act, it gets harder. to distinguish who is the original and who is the clone.

Like “Blade Runner,” a more ambitious sci-fi film that calls its humanoid creations “replicants,” “Dual” asks at its heart what it is to be human. But Gillan’s chilling performance prompts a more troubling question. When Sarah says to her double, “I like all kinds of music, especially pop, rock and hip-hop,” she shows no emotion or enthusiasm, merely repeating facts from memory. Is it as programmable as its clone?

Cinematographer Michael Ragen initially bathes much of “Dual” in a cold, clinical light palette. But as Sarah deepens her training and gains confidence, her surroundings change to warmer tones that indicate she is becoming more alive. (The look of these scenes recalls director Bernardo Bertolucci’s insistence that the reds, oranges, and skin tones of “Last Tango in Paris” appear “uterine.”) “Dual” takes a while to transition to upshifting, ending on an unresolved note. But it’s a funny and provocative struggle over the meaning of life.

R In the theaters of the region; available May 20 on request. Contains violence, sexual material, coarse language and graphic nudity. 94 minutes.

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