The opening 15 minutes of Prime Video’s new series, Dead Ringers, will undoubtedly have audiences talking, whether they decide to continue the show, or not, after that point. Incredibly dry humour, talk of threesomes with twins (or twincest, as it’s referred to), substance snorting, darkly atmospheric tension and a truly bloody, graphic birth montage launches the audience into this twisted, demented and absolutely intriguing world at a million miles an hour. It’s confronting, but to set up this sci-fi/thriller world, it’s actually quite necessary. But, does that electric momentum keep up through Dead Ringers six-episode run? Well, thematically, yes. Graphically, not always, and that’s not always a bad thing for this dark tale, serving as a gender-flipped reimagined take on the 1988 film of the same name, from the body-horror maestro himself, David Cronenberg.
Starring Rachel Weisz as the identical twins, and gynaecologists, Elliot and Beverly Mantle, Dead Ringers is a fascinating exploration into a God-theory – can humans ethically manipulate the creation of life? This is the question that sits on the minds of the Mantle twins, who outside of sharing a desire to facilitate the safe and defect free ability for women to give birth (something that the current medical system they’re employed by can’t do), they also share every other aspect of their lives, not even short of lovers. Realising this unique circumstance of chameleoning in and out of each other’s lives, the Mantle’s often switch roles with each other, with the distinguishing personalities being the main identifying feature.
Elliot is brash, to-the-point, sex-crazed and will pursue her wants and needs with veracity. Whereas, Beverley is steady and calm, the more emotionally rational of the twins. Despite their polarising personas, their life is almost in total sync and the passion is shared – to develop an advanced medical centre for women to safely produce and give birth to children, but a place that will operate outside of medical authority, and potential ethical boundaries, to challenge to outdated ways for women to bear their children. However, when no-nonsense investor, Rebecca (Jennifer Ehle), and romance for Beverley in the form of reality-TV star (and current patient), Genevieve (Britne Oldford), enter the Mantle twins lives, the cracks in their bait-and-switch lifestyle, and their moral differences begin creating an unexpected riff in their personal and professional relationship.
Developed for television by Alice Birch (Normal People), the tonal balance of twisted humour and unrelenting tension is expertly constructed through Birch and her writing team (consisting of all females). While there are moments that cause out loud laughter, the general atmosphere of the show isn’t ‘ha-ha’ funny, rather the biting humour often comes either from Elliot’s unfiltered dialogue, or the diffusing of awkward tension during a conversation. The general atmosphere is a dark, twisted tale that explores medical morality, and how far a person’s drive and desire can push them, especially when conflict arises. Birch’s unsettling tone is beautifully complimented by Sean Durkin’s (Martha Marcy May Marlene) immersive and engaging, but unsettling direction. Sharp cinematography and a steadily moving camera create such a brooding tone overall that completely sucks you into a world that feels dirty to be a part of. And that is a tone that is held well by the directors who follow Durkin’s opening two episodes.
An aspect of the story that some may struggle with, but is also something that feels intentional from Birch’s adaptation, is the confusing nature of keeping up with who is who. Predominantly, is it Beverely or Elliot on the screen? It’s a valid question, but also a great technique to force the view to pay attention at all times. Scenes are written and shot in such a disorientating way, paired with the dual performance of Weisz, to have the audience constantly questioning who, what and why. It’s undoubtedly engaging, but at times it can feel tedious trying to figure out what is happening, and to who, while the next scene begins, not letting enough time to breathe and debrief on the previous moment. It’s never to the detriment of the overall story, as the final two episodes tie together many plot threads succinctly and lead to a harrowing climax that is as disturbing as it is exciting, however there are points throughout the journey where feeling lost as to where the story is at that point it time can draw attention away from the screen.
The absolute anchor of Dead Ringers is the jaw-droppingly phenomenal dual role from Rachel Weisz as the Mantle twins. Weisz ability to physically and emotionally draw subtleties out of these characters is an engaging masterclass of performance. Weisz commits hard to these characters, fully embellishing in their flaws and strengths to give substantial depth to the twins, and to the story. If Weisz’s performance doesn’t work, the show truly doesn’t work. But she delivers in a way that not many actors could do. The duality of Weisz as the Mantle twins is reminiscent of Mark Ruffalo’s work in the limited series I Know This To Be True, to the point where the visual effects artist who worked on that series with Ruffalo, Eric Pascarelli, bring his masterful work into Dead Ringers to create flawless scenes of Weisz interacting with herself.
The depth of Dead Ringers story feels like it could have been fleshed out over more episodes, with some scenes and moments feeling a tad rushed, but overall, the twisted tale and broodingly dark atmosphere do enough to make this show one of those watches where hitting the ‘next episode’ button is easy. Prepare to be disturbed by this sci-fi thriller, while simultaneously being amazed by the outstanding performance from Rachel Weisz.
Dead Ringers will premiere all six episodes on Friday, April 21, exclusively on Prime Video.
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