The science-fiction thriller film Dual stars Karen Gillan and Aaron Paul and follows a young woman who is mistakenly told she has a terminal illness, purchases a clone, and has to prepare to engage in a government-sanctioned televised deathmatch against her clone. Riley Stearns' (The Art of Self-Defense) feature Dual holds an interesting concept but takes a muted path towards developing it. If film is more about the journey than the destination, there is something off-putting about the decisions made here in bringing it to life. The tone of Dual may be on point, but that tone is one of lifelessness. Dual rides a thin line between deadpan as art and deadpan as a cover for limited depth, with mixed results.
Emotional Scarcity: The nature of Dual's script is written to be sparse, which highlights the film's dry humor. Stearns directing Gillan's deadpan performance looks intentional — it takes a while to warm up to the cold, drizzly tone. It's not as if the world is hard to understand, but it feels underwritten beyond what is intentional. This bland dystopia takes on a characteristic in which most human emotions are suppressed heavily, but it is unclear why. Is it because of the desensitizing effects of watching human beings fight their clones to death on national television? There are hardly any other examples of this kind of behavior in the film, so it may be the film's dry humor. Fans of Yorgos Lanthimos will probably find something to like in this movie, speaking to Sarah's flat affect. On the other hand, it also makes empathizing with her a difficult task.
Quick Yet Forgettable: Dual could have been intended to be a high-concept, low-budget comedy-thriller, but its execution leaves something to be desired. In its efforts to subvert the straightforward setup — what the viewer is left with by the end may not come off as anything dramatically or emotionally satisfying. The cinematography, while clear in its cool-toned blues and greens, is stiff in order to complement the subdued performances. There is no one particular scene that stands out above the rest. The entire experience comes and goes in ninety quick minutes, without much to say about its concept except for some lame attempts at humor. Its more violent scenes are similarly cold and dramatically limp, and there's just not enough to anchor the viewer to Sarah's struggle. Karen Gillan is thankfully game at portraying Sarah as homely, and in denial about her failing relationships. It's hard to care about her struggle when she takes a few steps to rectify her issues aside from what the plot requires her to do. When push comes to shove, Sarah is as naïve as when we find her in the film's opening minutes. Her lack of growth holds everything back, cementing Dual's purpose to be a darkly comedic take on an underdeveloped premise.
Dual is no doubt a well-executed project — all the scenes with Sarah and her double are practically seamless in their blocking and execution. However, the same level of effort did not go into maintaining tension, nor does the humor do enough to carry the rest of the experience. There needed to be more life breathed into its main characters and the desire to push them in more interesting directions before their inevitable showdown.
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