Individuality is a prominent strength our society. Owning one’s identity gives life purpose and, despite numerous universal factors, remains the only intrinsic means of control. From our basic height and weight down to the grooves on the skin of our fingertips, we are unique. As always, the horror genre seeks to disturb that balance with a simple, threatening subgroup of duplicates, copies, doubles, clones: Doppelgängers. The mysterious intent of these ‘twin’ versions of ourselves spark situations of chaos, paranoia, and even reaches from otherworldly dimensions as harbingers of doom.
Jordan Peele’s upcoming Us is a clear indicator of a family’s doppelgängers revealing themselves as a presence of menace and violence. While the initial plot idea is original, encounters with duplicates is a disturbing occurrence the filmmakers of the genre have utilized to instill paranoia within viewers for decades. Whether or not Peele has a fresh take on these omens of negative psychosis, we’ve undoubtedly seen horror duplicate it before. The following list of films depict similar tropes of our worst fears brought to literal life, but also represent respective thematic elements of the doppelgänger theory.
From evil twins to mental manifestations, these 10 Terrorizing Doppelgängers have us seeing double! [Spoilers Ahead!]
10. Possession (1981)
Chaos follows a doppelgänger around the way a jilted lover falls behind the shadow of their paramour. Andrzej Żuławski (Cosmos) is no stranger to creating films of unusual substance, especially when it comes to his obscure horror drama, Possession. A young Sam Neill plays Mark, who begins to worry about the troublesome behavior of his wife, Anna, when she leaves him and their son to have an affair. After a gruesome series of events revealing Anna’s true nature, a creature she has been feeding finally morphs into a doppelgänger of Mark. When Mark and Anna are gunned down the clone of Mark arrives at the apartment where their son has drowned himself. Żuławski uses the clone, among other factors, in this film to serve as an interpretive allegory for a crumbling marriage, specifically divorce.
9. Lake Mungo (2008)
In one of my favorite eerie mockumentaries, a doppelgänger truly takes on the omen of death. Joel Anderson’s underrated After Dark Horror Fest release, Lake Mungo, explores grief with some provocative and taboo situations that contribute an acute feeling of dread and surprise to the story of one girls’ untimely death. Alice’s family is haunted by an apparition, one that seems to be her ghost. The more we find out about Alice, the more we observe what she found out about herself before mysteriously drowning in an Australian lake. When video evidence shows Alice coming face to face with herself, everything about this incredibly unnerving film comes full circle. Alice meeting her doppelgänger is one of the less strange events her and her family experience before the credits roll.
8. Silent Hill (2006)
Christophe Gans’ (Beauty and the Beast) adaptation of the hit video game series, Silent Hill, never fails to leave us feeling uneasy about the possibility of dark dimensions wrapped around our own. When Rose and her adopted daughter, Sharon, are trapped within the gloomy, dangerous realm of Silent Hill, Sharon’s evil doppelgänger entity, Alessa, is resurrected. Unearthly beings, morbid mutinies, and plausible interpretations of the afterlife are all created within the nightmare Rose shares with Good Alessa and Bad Alessa in this haunted limbo that strangely resembles their reality. Though the two sides of Alessa eventually merge to be reborn again as a whole, the emotionally vague ending leaves us feeling anything but complete.
7. The Hole In The Ground (2019)
Doppelgängers typically play off of the fear someone has of their loved ones not really being the people they think they are. Paranoia often accompanies the notion that someone looks like the one we know and acts like the one we know, but is a stranger all together. Lee Cronin’s (Minutes Past Midnight) The Hole In The Ground paints a dreadful portrait of a mother and son, Sarah and Chris, starting fresh in a new town, however the only thing that appears to be obviously new is Chris. Sarah struggles with the unsure feeling that Chris, returning from an evening trip into the woods, is not really Chris. The horror of a child replaced is not only every parent’s worst fear, but a tauntingly ambiguous motif of guilt and doubt.
6. Enemy (2013)
Dennis Villeneuve (Arrival) modernizes the doppelgänger theory in this slow burning mystery thriller starring Jake Gyllenhaal as an average college professor who comes across an actor that looks exactly like him. As the professor and actor begin to find out more about one another, the more they begin to covet each other’s lifestyles. When it comes to Enemy, the doppelgänger acts as a means for one man to be someone else, to exchange his own discontented life for that of another without being noticed. Enemy is one of those films worth discussing as it serves as a tense totalitarian parable, a metaphor for the two sides of the psyche, and has a very haunting end scene you’d never expect… plus it features two Jake Gyllenhaals.
5. Coherence (2013)
Whenever multiples and alternate realities intersect, film can ultimately collapse on themselves or become revelations of filmmaker expertise. James Ward Byrkit (Rango) proves himself to be a skilled innovator as his sleeper thriller film, Coherence, hits every high note of layered dimensions and complex doppelgänger interactions. When a comet passes in the sky over a group of unsuspecting dinner party guests worlds collide with the weird consequence of their doppelgängers being trapped int their dimension… or with them becoming trapped in their doppelgängers’ dimension. Suspicions rise as the friends begin to question if they are the good group or the dark group. This intersection of pathways and persons causes the group to level with their reality and accept an odd fate: kill or be killed while selfishly choosing a ‘happy’ dimension from the selection of alternatives.
4. Poltergeist III (1998)
When a double presents itself, the odds are it’s with nefarious intentions. As a reflection of ourselves, these being can be used to perform evil deeds under the guise of innocence. In Gary Sherman’s (Dead & Buried) odd, but equally frightening third installment of the Poltergeist franchise, Carol Anne’s clone is used as a lure to trick her protectors when she moves into a large Chicago skyscraper with her aunt, uncle, and cousin. The evil and always incredibly creepy, Reverend Henry Kane uses the mirrors within the residences to mimic the inhabitants and carry out his horrific bidding in order to obtain the child’s life force once and for all. The use of the living’s reflections as doppelgängers create cohesive, nuanced vessels for his wicked trickery and dares viewers to take a second look the next time they pass a mirror.
3. Black Swan (2010)
Darren Aronofsky (mother!), the Master of the Metaphor (trademark pending), spins circles around the light and dark elements of a young women’s mentality in the infamous tale, Black Swan. Nina, a delicate and sheepish, but determined, ballerina strives for the spotlight in the company opening of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. As she desperately tries to awaken her inner edge and compete with new, effortless dancer, Lily, Nina realizes her mind’s satin laces are slowly unravelling. Hallucinations and visions of her own self repeatedly appear and disappear with each mental switch between the White Swan and the Black Swan. Being replaced by someone better is a difficult pill to swallow, but combating the better version of ourselves, our improved doppelgänger, is what makes this story truly dreadful. In the end, Nina’s ego battle becomes a confusing bloody mess resulting in her demise by her own hand.
2. Army of Darkness (1992)
Good. Bad. He’s the guy with the gun. Beloved Evil Dead character, Ash Williams, finds himself in one ugly period of time when he is transported back to the Middle Ages in Sam Raimi’s third Evil Dead installment, Army of Darkness. As Ash seeks the way home to his true timeline through haunted woods, he encounters an enemy far worse than any Deadite: his own evil twin. Evil Ash leads The Army of Darkness, forcing Ash himself to round-up the humans for an epic battle of medieval delights against the reigning doppelgänger. Evil Ash is used to wage war and battle it out to the carnage-filled end, giving our hero one truly meaningful foe. Even the Necronomicon is given the duplicate treatment in this campy cult-favorite, but, again, there can only be one… or so I’ve heard.
1. Cam (2018)
Whether we are aware of it or not, we are constantly in competition with ourselves psychologically. Imagine if all of your hard work, everything you’ve strived to gain is then rivaled by your exact duplicate. This is the daunting situation cam-girl Alice aka ‘Lola‘ faces in Daniel Goldhaber’s debut film, Cam. When her doppelgänger takes over her profitable, private web show, all control over Alice’s personal and professional identities is placed in the hands of her mysteriously manifested lookalike. Alice’s life, consumed by the camera, is suddenly successfully wielded by her double leaving her to the dangerously desperate task of reclaiming what’s hers from herself.
Regardless of motive and creation, doppelgängers are entities we fear for reasons of losing our identities completely to a like being. Horror obviously has a crafty history of presenting circumstances of replacement, crisis, the paranormal, and even death through the use of these character doubles. Should you find yourself facing an identity crisis, be it your own or another’s, keep in mind that the idea of a doppelgänger is just a mythical theory for us to individually interpret meaning as to who they are… or… are they?
Who are you favorite horror film doppelgängers? Which films do you think used the terrifying theory best? Let us know over on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Fiends of Nightmare on Film Street Facebook group!