Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Karen Gillan, Aaron Paul, Beulah Koale, Theo James, Maija Paunio, Sanna-June Hyde, Andrei Alén, Kris Gummerus
Written by: Riley Stearns
Directed by: Riley Stearns
MPAA Rating: R for violent content, some sexual content, language and graphic nudity
Running Time: 95
Date: 04/15/2022
IMDB

Dual (2022)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Think We're a Clone Now

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A downbeat sci-fi mixed with dark, dry comedy, this very funny, genuinely surprising, and surprisingly touching gem works beautifully thanks to its confident palette and the committed performances.

Sarah (Karen Gillan) lives a passive life, drinking too much and chatting with her out-of-town boyfriend Peter (Beulah Koale). After waking up with blood on her pillow, she learns that she has a rare, fatal disease with no cure. She decides to clone herself, in order to leave a part of her behind for Peter and her mother (Maija Paunio).

Months later, Sarah is still alive and the Sarah double has taken over Sarah's life, and even stolen Peter. Then, Sarah learns that she's not dying after all. When she tries to decommission the double, the double calls for a duel to the death. So with a year to get ready, Sarah begins training with survival specialist Trent (Aaron Paul). But even her new skills can't prepare her for what's next.

The third feature by writer/director Riley Stearns, Dual firmly establishes him as a filmmaker with a specific visual and tonal style, as well as one unafraid to explore tough themes of humanity. (It's hard not to recall his The Art of Self-Defense while watching.)

The movie opens with a swash of shocking violence (featuring Theo James) to set the tone (and to establish the title's nifty double meaning), then introduces Gillan's Sarah in a brilliant sequence that checks off everything we need to know about her. It's only then that we might realize that this stuff is slyly funny; the humor creeps up on us.

Gillan's perfectly modulated performance provides most of the laughs. She's deadpan, to be sure, but she allows some emotion at the edge of her performance. Her line deliveries are sprinkled with uncertainty and self-doubt, and the mix makes her both hilarious and lovable.

Dual gets even better when Gillan gets to act with herself, and better still when Paul comes into the picture. His delivery is intense but gentle, and he compliments her beautifully, especially in a scene in which he asks her for a special favor.

After a smattering of brutal moments mixed with sumptuous ones, the movie eventually takes a somewhat pessimistic turn — it doesn't let us off easy — but it also feels like a shared, existential experience. In this world, we're all laughing and crying together.

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