Rachel Weisz delivers two stellar performances in a unique, modern reinvention of the David Cronenberg thriller.
Plot: A modern take on David Cronenberg’s 1988 thriller starring Jeremy Irons, Rachel Weisz plays the double-lead roles of Elliot and Beverly Mantle, twins who share everything: Drugs, lovers, and an unapologetic desire to do whatever it takes—including pushing the boundaries on medical ethics—in an effort to challenge antiquated practices and bring women’s health care to the forefront
Review: The 1988 thriller Dead Ringers starred Jeremy Irons in the dual roles of Elliot and Beverly Mantle, identical twin gynecologists who succumb to vanity, addiction, and obsession. The film is one of director David Cronenberg’s more restrained productions yet still features disturbing body horror imagery in a unique take on Bari Woods’ novel Twins. It is hard to imagine how anyone could remake Dead Ringers without existing in the shadow of Cronenberg’s film. Yet, showrunner Alice Birch and star Rachel Weisz have stunningly reinvented the tale with a modern perspective that shifts this story from thriller to meditative drama. It is still haunting and, at times, challenging but so wholly unique that it succeeds as a fully independent tale from the film and novel that came before it.
The Prime Video series Dead Ringers shares only the core plot with the prior versions of the story: Beverly and Elliot Mantle are identical twins working as gynecologists. Beverly is the more empathetic of the pair, while Eliot is more vocal and willing to create controversy. The pair are wholly committed to their careers, with Eliot especially intrigued by research, while Beverly invests in the care of their patients. As the series opens, the sisters plan to open a birth clinic and seek funding from wealthy Rebecca (Jennifer Ehle) and her wife Susan (Emily Meade). Through the whims of their wealthy patrons, Beverly and Eliot begin to drift from each other regarding their career motivations and personal aspirations. This divide is further complicated by Genevieve (Britne Oldford), a beautiful and famous actress who becomes entangled with Beverly.
The series deviates from the source material and preceding film significantly from there. In the 1988 film, an actress named Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold) catalyzes the twin doctors to descend into addiction and eventual death, inspired by the real-life death of twin gynecologists Stewart and Cyril Marcus. Series showrunner Alice Birch uses this iteration of Dead Ringers to explore instead the world of modern medicine, specifically related to obstetrics and prenatal care. Watching Dead Ringers expecting this to be a horror story is misleading. Birch and her writing team are deeply invested in the psychological elements of this story, and there are certainly chilling and haunting moments, but this is as far from the 1988 film as I could have imagined, and I mean that in the best way. This six-episode series is instead a look inside the psyche of identical twins and the trauma of co-dependency.
None of what this series aims to be would work without the integral performances from Rachel Weisz. From The Fountain and The Constant Gardener to The Lobster and The Favourite, Weisz has long been one of the best actors working today. Taking on dual roles can often play like stunt-casting, regardless of the performer’s skill. Here, Weisz plays Beverly and Eliot as incredibly distinct characters while being mirror images of one another. Their physicality differs in mannerisms and how they wear their hair, and either of the siblings at time passes for the other. There is a subtlety to Weisz’ acting here that is entrancing to watch, and the technology used to have them exist on screen together is some of the most seamless editing I have seen. Weisz also works well opposite Britne Oldford as well as Michael Chernus. Weisz commands the screen in every scene, but co-star Poppy Liu is a wonderful surprise as the Mantle’s assistant, Greta. Without divulging much plot, Greta’s role in this series is a powerful and unexpected element to the story that complements the Mantle twins’ journey.
Dead Ringers also succeeds thanks to series creator Alice Birch. A skilled playwright, Birch scripted the Florence Pugh films Lady Macbeth and The Wonder, two excruciatingly wrought examinations of being a woman in different eras of history. In this series, Birch and her writing staff use the dichotomy of childbirth and medicine, rich and poor, love and hate, and far more to dissect women’s interactions in the modern world. Making the majority of the on-screen couplings same-sex relationships also further drive the idea of femininity in ways we have not seen before. Birch partners with directors Sean Durkin, Lauren Wolkstein, Karena Evans, and the great Karyn Kusama to paint this series in modern, elegant sets, often in blue and brown hues. They also give the medical procedures a stark and detached quality that accentuates the blood on screen as much as the primal elements of what the human body can withstand. It is as shocking and jarring as it is haunting and beautiful.
It would be unfair to consider Dead Ringers a remake or reboot of the film and novel that inspired it. Still, bringing unsuspecting viewers into this powerful drama and character study is a worthwhile connection. Lacking the tenser elements that one would expect from a thriller or horror story, Dead Ringers is an excellent drama with chilling elements and haunting overtones. Based on Rachel Weisz’s brilliant pair of roles alone, Dead Ringers showcases her talent across all genres and styles. This is definitely not a series for the squeamish, nor is it for anyone expecting casual viewing. From the first episode to the sixth and final chapter, Dead Ringers demands you to investigate each frame for every lingering moment. Stick with it past the end credits. Not everything ends the way you expect it to.
Dead Ringers premieres on April 21st on Prime Video.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/dead-ringers-tv-review/