Director/Screenplay – Riley Stearns, Producers – Nate Bolotin, Maxime Cottray, Lee Kim, Nick Spicer. Riley Stearns & Aram Tertzakian, Photography – Michael Ragen, Music – Emma Ruth Rundle, Visual Effects – Playfight VFX (Supervisor – Sophia Jooyeon Lee), Special Effects Supervisor – Konsta Mannerheimo, Production Design – Sattva-Hanna Toiviainen. Production Company – XYZ Films/IPR. VC./Resolute Films & Entertainment/Bondit Media Capital/Head Gear Films/Metrol Technology.
Karen Gillan (Sarah), Aaron Paul (Trent), Beulah Koale (Peter), Maija Paunio (Sarah’s Mother), Theo James (Robert Michaels)
Sarah learns that she has a terminal condition. She agrees to have a clone made of herself. Not long after the clone is awakened and introduced into her life, Sarah learns that she has gone into complete remission. However, the clone has implanted itself into her life to the point that her boyfriend Peter ditches her to maintain a relationship with the clone and her mother prefers to treat it as her daughter. The court decrees that Sarah and the clone must fight a televised duel to the death with the victor being entitled to own Sarah’s life. Sarah is even required to pay support for the clone over the months up until the duel is held. In the meantime, Sarah begins training with a fight instructor, determined to be the one who kills the clone.
Dual was the third film for US director/writer Riley Stearns. Prior to this, Stearns had made Faults (2014) and The Art of Self Defense (2019), both non-genre films. The film was shot in Finland during the Covid pandemic – the location being chosen apparently because the country was one of the most successful at reducing infection numbers.
Cloning themes have been with us since the 1970s and the first film on the topic The Clones (1973). Most of these have centred around themes of someone finding their life taken over by an identical duplicate, while in more recent years the idea of clone soldiers has taken off. Amid this, there have been a number of clever and inventive treatments including films like The Boys from Brazil (1978), Never Let Me Go (2010), Womb (2010), Elizabeth Harvest (2018), LX 2048 (2020) and the tv series Orphan Black (2013-7). (For a more detailed listing of these see Films About Cloning).
Dual comes with an extremely improbable scenario. We are, it is implied but never clearly stated, in a Future Setting where cloning is an everyday technology. It appears to be used for people who have terminal conditions to create replacements of themselves. These are what I refer to as insta-clones – a copy of the person that emerges at the same age and with even the same hairstyle as the original rather than as a baby as any clone should. These copies are also blank – they appear to come with speech and socialisation but none of the memories or personality traits from the donor. This would be the normal way a clone would come into the world except that in reality the clone would come with a mind as blank as a new-born child, while this leaves you wondering where it would have learned to speak.
In this future, it would appear that there is a problem with clones being made as replacements for terminal patients and then the original not dying. Apparently, this occurs with sufficient regularity to the point there are even local support groups for survivors of such. You would almost expect in any regular society with so many occurrences that a law be made that the clone would have to be euthanized. Via pretzel logic, society in this future instead decides to deal with it by deeming that the two clones have to fight it out in televised to-the-death combat.
Now, this is an idea I could see working with a satiric spin along the lines of something like The Tenth Victim (1965) or Series 7: The Contenders (2001), but it is played seriously. However, Riley Stearns does nothing to make such a scenario believable. You could even see a serious treatment working – I would have written the story in terms of the clone’s point-of-view, showing its fear and confusion at adjusting to the world as an adult with a blank mind, its efforts to try and learn the life of the donor only to then learn that it has to be killed and for it to choose to go on the run. Only here we get the viewpoint of the donor who fears the clone is her replacement where the bulk of the drama is less interestingly centred around her having to train in combat for the fight.
The film’s lead is Karen Gillan, the Scottish actress who came to fame in 2010 as the companion to Matt Smith’s Doctor in tv’s Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005- ). She has since had moderate success in Hollywood roles in films like Mike Flanagan’s Oculus (2013) and as Nebula in the Guardians of the Galaxy films and the Jumanji reboot series. I am not sure quite what went on when it came to Dual but Gillan gives a robotic performance. The character is cold, seemingly devoid of human reaction or even humour. I kept wondering if this was part of some kind of character arc where she would open up and discover life – it even seems there with the script implying she is so disagreeable a person that her boyfriend and parents prefer the clone to her – but this never happens. The upshot makes for a closed-off and unlikeable lead.