David Cronenberg is rather unique, almost two directors in one. There’s the “body horror” genre that he became the go-to director for, and then there’s the serious, straight director that would emerge in the 2000s with films like A History of Violence and Eastern Promises. Here, with Dead Ringers, he shows us a hint of the serious director that he would become, right in the midst of his body horror phase, which leaks slightly into the film as though Cronenberg couldn’t resist his desires. It feels a lot like an experiment, albeit for Cronenberg it is an opposite one; instead of experimenting with weirdness and unconventionality like a normal director would, Cronenberg, whose films are weird and unconventional by nature, here experiments with a straightforward and, dare I say, normal film. It still feels like a Cronenberg film, but the practical effects are all but absent (though, they are not entirely absent).
Jeremy Irons plays a wonderful dual role as Elliot and Beverly Mantle, twin brothers who are well-regarded in their medical field of gynecology. They are also, unbeknownst to the public, notorious womanizers, in particular Elliot, who seduces clients and beds them, then hands them off to younger brother Beverly, while the women are unaware that they are different people. This lifestyle is thrown for a loop when Beverly meets Claire, a well-known actress and new patient, and begins to form an attachment to her, an attachment that threatens to destroy the tenuous equilibrium the brothers have with their mutual life, and with each other. Where Cronenberg’s body horror films are as visceral as they are repulsive, Dead Ringers’ mood and aesthetic can best be described as lukewarm. The color palette and cinematography are still very much Cronenberg, but without the grotesque practical effects throughout the picture, we are instead left with an entirely-too-unsettling feel to the film, like something really horrific is about to happen, but then never does. Sure, the film was intentionally milking this feeling, and in that way the film is a success, but for me it ended up being somewhat like Bridesmaids’ milking of the awkward moment; at some point, you just want it to either get to the payoff or just stop entirely.
I was really uncertain of which side of the fence I should end up on with this one. Irons is consistently watchable, even though the technology of the time makes it so anyone with a cursory knowledge of filmmaking will spend most of the running time dissecting how they pulled off his dual role quite easily, but I didn’t see the need to add this to the list just for that, as well as removing Reversal of Fortune to do it. It was effective at what it did, even though I didn’t much care for what it did, but the list wasn’t crying out due to a lack of what this had to offer. In the end, it was just another superfluous addition, and it wasn’t even one that I was particularly sure I liked. You can give this a try if you want, but I’m not too sure it will have very much for you.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10