Dead Ringers

November 2nd, 2008 by J. Luis Rivera

Dead Ringers   dead ringers dvd red11 80x120 thriller reviews reviews horror drama Director: David Cronenberg
Writer: Norman Sinder and David Cronenberg based on a book by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland
Release Year: 1988

Love is the deadliest disease

Few filmmakers have a style as clearly defined as Canadian director David Cronenberg, whose career has been developed on a constantly evolving path moving from the themes of extreme physical horror of his early years (which culminate in the awesome remake of “The Fly” in 1986) to the subtler, psychologically oriented (though no less disturbing) themes of his recent work. Like a trip from the outer body horror to the inner one, the one of the mind.

The turning point of his career is definitely 1988′s “Dead Ringers”, the movie where Cronenberg begins this change to less visceral and graphic horrors, but that still carry that distinctive style of his, as while at first sight it seems like a departure, it’s actually the logic evolution of a style that reaches maturity without forgetting its origins. Always fascinated with disease and its effects, David Cronenberg explores in “Dead Ringers” the deadliest of all diseases: love, in the story of two brothers that acted like one, and the intruder that separated them.

Dead Ringers   ded00 300x168 thriller reviews reviews horror drama “Dead Ringers” is the story of Beverly and Elliot Mantle (both played by Jeremy Irons), a couple of identical twins that since birth have always been very close. So close that they have studied the same profession (where both are considered among the best in their field), work together as gynecologists in their own clinic, and literally share everything between them (from work responsibilities to lovers), to the point that they are basically one person in two bodies. This extremely symbiotic relationship begins to shatter when a new patient, actress Claire Niveau (Geneviève Bujold), enters into their lives. Beverly, who has always been the shy, introverted one of the two, has fallen in love with her, and discovers that this emotion is something he doesn’t feel like sharing with his brother anymore. However, the twins have always existed together as one, so this change will have terrible consequences to their already disturbed minds. As the tag-line reads, “Separation Can Be A Terrifying Thing”.

Loosely based on Bari Wood and Jack Geasland‘s book “Twins” (which was also loosely based on a strange, real-life case), the plot at first sounds like something out of a typical TV drama; however, “Dead Ringers” goes beyond the usual twists and turns of melodrama and makes a disturbing portrait of the brothers’ psychology and the effects separation has in them, very much in tone with the constant theme of disease often explored by the Canadian director. Written by Norman Snider and Cronenberg himself, “Dead Ringers” takes the ideas of identity and the duality of identity as a starting point to tell the story of a perfect organism made out of two persons. The Mantle brothers may be physically two men, but psychologically they work as one, and so the “invasion” that Claire represents in their life is like a viral infection that begins to corrode the brothers from the very inside. In a way, love has infected their conjoined organism, and it’s not something they are used to deal with.

Dead Ringers   ded01 300x168 thriller reviews reviews horror drama Detailing the effects of this “infection” with surgical precision, Cronenberg conceives “Dead Ringers” with a classy elegance that moves away from the violently graphic imagery of his previous efforts; however, this doesn’t make the film any less disturbing, it’s just a subtler style of horror. This progression to a more psychologically oriented horror (seen first in “Videodrome” and “The Dead Zone“) is framed by an appropriately sober cinematography (by Peter Suschitzky) that effectively represents the cold, sterile atmosphere that permeates the lives of the brothers, making the perfect setting for the horrors unleashed by their ultimate breakdown. While better known for his use of special effects in the body transformations of his previous films, Cronenberg was no stranger to handling drama, and “Dead Ringers”‘ mix of horror, drama and romance is a remarkable proof of that, as his handling of the story is masterful, specially the excellent performances he brings out of his actors.

Dead Ringers   ded02 300x168 thriller reviews reviews horror drama Being essentially a character study, “Dead Ringers” wouldn’t be the same without the amazing performance of Jeremy Irons as the two main characters. In the difficult role of giving life to two different yet physically identical men, Irons succeeds with terrific results delivering what probably is the best performance of his career. As Beverly he is shy, introverted and almost charming; while as Elliot he becomes this manipulative smooth-talker who feels the perfect balance of his life (well, their lives) to be threatened by the sudden inclusion of Claire in their environment. While Irons‘s work is certainly the one that receives most of the praise, the films is also benefited by Geneviève Bujold‘s performance as Claire, which is also worthy of recognition as her performance is very natural and fresh, showing a truly believable chemistry with Irons and proving to be up to the challenge of not being overshadowed as her character enters the reclusive world of the Mantle brothers.

Dead Ringers   ded03 300x168 thriller reviews reviews horror drama In a way, “Dead Ringers” is a fitting companion piece to 1986′s “The Fly“, as both films deal with the deterioration of an organism consumed (or better said, “transformed”) by disease. While “The Fly” focused mainly on the physical decay of a man transforming into a fly, “Dead Ringers” showcases the gradual mental deterioration of the Mantle brothers and their symbiotic relationship in the face of separation. Personally, I think “Dead Ringers” is Cronenberg’s absolute masterpiece (although my favorite film of his is “Videodrome“), as every element in it is just flawless: from the complex and fascinating plot to the remarkable acting by the cast, it would be hard to find any flaw in it. Still, if the film has any problem is that probably someone expecting something akin to Cronenberg’s graphic horror won’t find a lot of it here, and people expecting a normal romance-drama film will find really disturbing scenes. So the best advice would be to go with an open mind in order to discover one of the most amazing films of the 80s.

After “Dead Ringers” director David Cronenberg continued to move away from the graphic body horror of his early works to the disturbing horrors of the mind that his posterior films explored, so this one’s technically the movie where the beginning of a new era in his career took place. At first sight, it may not exactly be what one tends to expect from a horror film by David Cronenberg, but looking closely, “Dead Ringers” has the Canadian filmmaker’s trademark all over the place. While I won’t deny that sometimes the explosive creativity found in the grotesque imagery of his previous films is kind of missed, it really had no place in “Dead Ringers”, as the classy and sober style Cronenberg choose to give it make the film, in my humble opinion, one of the most beautiful horror films ever made.

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