Dual – Sundance Review

by Adam Sirdoreus

Following two impressive, acclaimed directorial efforts, Riley Stearns returns behind the camera for Dual – a blend of the sci-fi drama. If you know Stearns’ style, you can be sure there is some dark comedy laced throughout as well. The film follows Sarah (Karen Gillan), who lives a somewhat mundane existence. Nothing is terrible about her day-to-day life, but she ultimately feels unfulfilled and void of feeling any given emotion too intensely. She’s then diagnosed with a rare and incurable disease, to which she is also seemingly numb to the entire thing. 

The film establishes its sci-fi premise right off the bat, as these characters live in a world where life-like clones can be made for people in Sarah’s position with limited time to live. To ease the pain of her death for her loved ones, she decides to go through with the cloning procedure and spend her remaining days teaching her clone how to live as Sarah after she’s gone. However, the entire process proves to be more challenging than Sarah originally thought. 

Riley Stearns is one of our most promising directors working today. His seamless blend of dark comedy and drama is what always floors me about his work. With Dual, while I think it might be the weakest of his three efforts, I can still see him evolving even more with his craft and doubling down on his commitment to blend genres with each of his films. The film is undeniably an ambitious piece of work, and the world-building is surprisingly effective and fascinating for the amount of time we get to spend it. 

Karen Gillan gives an absolutely fantastic, dual performance here as Sarah and her clone. The way she provides distinct differences between the two of them but obvious overlaps in their beings makes for a really compelling narrative. Some of the side stories here didn’t completely work for me. Still, whenever it focuses primarily on Sarah’s story and showcases Gillan’s fantastic performance, I think Dual works pretty well as a dark comedy with dramatic undertones to flesh it out. This isn’t quite up to par with The Art of Self-Defense, in my opinion, but it also feels like an exciting next step for Stearns as a filmmaker.

Grade: B

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