Hunger Games meets cloning in Dual, a new film starring the talented Karen Gillan. Writer/director Riley Stearns creates a darkly satirical story regarding some intense themes, beneath which there lies a rumble of serious existential questions. Stearns creates a futuristic and otherworld feel to his setting, characters, and plot, allowing for a disconnect from the profound moral and ethical codes being presented and examined. Overall, the filmmakers create a solid piece that evokes a great deal of thought, and Gillan’s dilemma speaks to us.
Gillan plays Sarah, a young woman who learns that she has one of those rare, incurable, fatal diseases so common in movies – perfectly healthy today but dead within months kind of illnesses. She learns about a program called Replacement, which provides clones for such unfortunates so that they can die with the peace of mind that friends and family will feel the loss less. Pragmatically, she contracts for a duplicate of herself to be made. Her clone assimilates into her life to the point that her mother and boyfriend prefer the copy to her. As annoying as this is, Sarah goes along because of her prognosis until she learns from her doctor that her disease is miraculously gone. Sarah attempts to have the clone decommissioned but is instead thrust into a duel to the death – which will win, the original or the duplicate? To Sarah’s surprise, a clause in her contract states that her clone, who wants to keep living her new life, can opt for the dual over being decommissioned. Only one will survive.
There are some serious moral questions here – starting with the ethics of cloning and going even more darkly into this dual to the death premise– both women, after all, are living beings. Sarah begins training for the ordeal with Trent (Aaron Paul) in a regimen that increases her physical fitness but severely stretches her bank account to ensure her win. All the while, both Sarah and her counterpart struggle with the looming doom. Gillan, as always, shows her acting and action-star prowess. Her characters are subtly different enough to be convincing, and while we lean toward empathizing with Sarah, the clone is likable and LIVING too.
In Dual, Gillan, and Stearns create this almost deadpan comedy – Sarah is particularly and oddly practical and pragmatic in her mannerisms and tone. It is difficult to believe that Sarah and others take things so indifferently. The rest of the film’s cast contributes to the slow, matter-of-fact mood Stearns cultivates, as does the technical crew—cinematographer Michael Ragen, production designer Sattva-Hanna Toiviainen, and costumer Janne Karjalainen and step up to create a wholly plausible, albeit insane, story. Dual earns 5 stars from me.