Films about clones can be a crap shoot, if we’re being perfectly honest. Very few manage to squeeze out as much fun from the concept as we’d like, and a handful of them usually end in the most pedestrian way possible. Bearing this in mind, it is a testament to Riley Stearns as a storyteller to craft a film about a character interacting with their clone, that’s willing to stretch beyond the usual tropes with Dual.
As Sara, Karen Killan is a woman struggling with her relationships, both romantic and familial, and her own sense of self. After a night of binge-drinking rolls over into a morning with Sara having coughed up copious amounts of blood, a visit to her doctor reveals that she is suffering from a terminal ailment. What this ailment is, the film conspicuously never discloses, but it’s enough that Sara decides the best course of action is to clone herself, so that her loved ones never have to deal with losing her. As the clone Sara ingratiates herself with the people in Sara’s life, the original Sara is informed that her illness has gone into remission, which would normally lead to the clone being decommissioned. However, enough time passes that by law, the clone Sara is legally within her rights to take over the life of her original. Even worse, the original Sara not only has to make payments for the creation of the clone, she has to pay alimony to support the clone . . . And in a year’s time, she’ll have to fight her clone in a duel to the death, since there can’t be two of them in society.
Dual certainly has a lot to say about how we view ourselves, and how others view us. Through this experience, Sara is forced to deal with some rather weighty issues as it relates to how her boyfriend and even her own mother interact with her once they’re introduced to her clone. Like most of the performances in the film, Karen Gillan is surprisingly deadpan and often self-effacing in her delivery as Sara, so to the point that her performance as her own clone rarely makes her feel like a unique and separate individual. It would be fair to argue that this is by design. Every character in the film is surprisingly blunt, without any grasp of the concept of tact. Even the physicians Sara consults with display an overall lack of bedside manner. The characters in Dual are raw and unfiltered with their thoughts and opinions in a way that is genuinely unnerving. This heightens the tension as Sara begins to question whether or not the people in her life prefer the clone over her.
To writer and director Riley Stearns and Karen Gillan’s credit, clone Sara never feels like the typical “I’m gonna to take over your life because I’m evil” clone. She can’t help but want to live, and eventually wrestles with what that will mean for the original Sara. It’s fascinating to watch her evolve as a character, initially having no real awareness of how callous some of her interactions with Sara are, before becoming more emotionally complex. The irony of her developing characteristics that the original Sara lacks should not be lost on audiences.
Certainly not lacking a sense of humor, Dual manages to provide a surprising amount of levity to its story through this same deadpan delivery for all of its characters. Much of this comes from the films quieter moments with Sara by herself, but the introduction of Aaron Paul as Trent provides an added layer of comedy, as Sara enlists his help in training her how to fight, in preparation for her duel to the death with her clone. Paul is a pillar of stoicism as he interacts with Sara in a way that would suggest that he understands her own feelings of detachment and lack of agency. Thankfully, Dual never tries to push this into a romantic scenario between the two characters, although there is a more personal connection that ultimately does develop between Trent and Sara, resulting in a delightfully hilarious needle drop that I was not prepared for.
If nothing else, Dual is one of the few clone-based films I’ve seen in recent memory that attempts to ask necessary questions about existence, agency, and our own self-worth. Independent of the clone-centric conceit of the film, Dual works rather beautifully as an examination of one’s struggle with adulthood and all its complexities. It’s not always successful in providing concrete answers, but there is a thoughtful ponderance of such themes that I appreciated. The film effortlessly blends comedy and drama, allowing the audience to find laughter in Sara’s predicament, yet still empathize with her in a way that is genuinely satisfying. Karen Gillan once again proves herself to be an incredibly versatile actress, fully committing to both roles with a dry wit and a palpable aura of vulnerability.
[3.5 out of 5]