Written and directed by Riley Stearns (Faults), Dual is a quirky little story about a woman training to fight her clone in a duel to the death. Celebrating its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, Dual stars Karen Gillan (who horror fans will no doubt recognize from Mike Flanagan’s Oculus), Beulah Koale, Maija Paunio, and Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad fame as a no-funny-business combat trainer.
More a black comedy of errors than a situational sci-fi, Dual exists in a world you can almost make out over the horizon if you look hard enough. Cloning, as it’s presented in this tall tale, is damn near reality right now. This isn’t the alarm bell warning it might be in the hands of another storyteller because Stearns is focused on the human stories that make up the mosaic of this probable future. No one is leading a rogue mission to uncover a high-profile conspiracy but there still exist dark truths about the people of this brave new world.
“…an introspective fable for anyone secretly terrified of our next technological leaps…”
Set 5 minutes into the future, Riley Stearns’ Dual exists in a world where cloning is commonplace and people suffering from terminal illnesses can choose to have themselves replicated. Sarah (Karen Gillan) has been told in no uncertain terms that she is going to die and rather than have that uncomfortable conversation with her mother, she opts to have herself cloned. Her duplicate looks and sounds exactly like her (minus a slight difference in eye color). Her clone even gets along with her mother and fiancée (Beulah Koale) better than she ever did! Despite the soul-crushing experience of watching her doppelganger live a more fulfilling life, everything is going according to plan…until Sarah learns that she has made a miraculous recovery.
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Here’s the problem: Only dead and dying people are permitted to be cloned and there are very strict laws in place to enforce this. There can only exist one version of a person and Sarah is forced into a court-mandated duel to the death to determine who will live on as the one-and-only Sarah. And to add insult to injury, Sarah’s fiancée kicks her out of their apartment so that he and Sarah’s Double can work on their relationship without her around. Over the next year, Sarah scrimps and saves to pay support to her double (ugh) and train to swiftly murder her on live television.
Sarah is an incredibly analytical character. It’s that exact part of her nature that makes her response to a terminal diagnosis so interesting, and it also comes in real handy when she’s forced to put herself into beast mode to prep for the (literal) fight of her life. It’s an aspect of her personality that she and her double share, which can make their conversations overly robotic at times. I’m sure there’s something more to be said about which characters in the film are cold and why, but it’s a choice that I found hard to make peace with.
Dual is neither a laugh-out-loud riot nor a gripping thriller but it is an introspective fable for anyone secretly terrified of our next technological leaps and what potential damage they could cause. It’s a thought experiment that throws survivor’s guilt, gladiator fighting, and bureaucracy into a blender for a bittersweet fight-or-flight frappe. It remains to be seen whether our future will include government-sanctioned televised murder but Dual could just as easily have opened with the words: Based on a true story…that hasn’t happened yet.
“Dual is neither a laugh-out-loud riot nor a gripping thriller but it is an introspective fable for anyone secretly terrified of [ the future]”
Riley Stearns’s Dual celebrated its world premiere at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Be sure to follow all of our Sundance 2022 coverage HERE and let us know what your weapon of choice would be if you had to fight your clone to the death over on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, and in the official Nightmare on Film Street Discord. Not a social media fan? Get more horror delivered straight to your inbox by joining the Neighbourhood Watch Newsletter.