Tackling Cronenberg is no easy task. With the news that Prime Video was adapting his psychological thriller, Dead Ringers, into a miniseries starring Rachel Weisz, the internet (as it does) had much to say. The expansion of the feature film into a miniseries has its benefits in this update, but also its negatives. It’s the magnifying glass that showrunner, executive producer, and writer Alice Birch puts over the entire birthing industry and the birthing process that makes DEAD RINGERS memorable. Weisz’s performances notwithstanding.
Focusing on Beverly and Elliot (Ellie) Mantle, we learn within the first episode the twins’ personalities, interests, and desires. We also see the conditions they work in. Beverly desperately wants to open a birthing center to address the problems she encounters at her job like lack of trust in healthcare, maternal mortality, and miscarriages. The reserved, shy twin, Beverly frequently is the lightning rod of verbal abuse from those around her, which makes accomplishing her goals a constant uphill struggle.
Elliot, on the other hand, is living her best life. She doesn’t believe in boundaries or ethics and, while making continuous inappropriate comments, she is seen as the fun twin. Everything changes, though, when Beverly meets Genevieve (Britne Oldford). It is this meeting that shakes up the world of the Mantle twins and leads us down a spiral of gradual horror and pain with devastating results.
The New Mantle Twins in DEAD RINGERS
Our introduction to the twins, particularly Elliot, is like getting dashed in the face with cold water. Their personalities are offputting. However, after seeing the events of the first episode, where we see the harsh reality of maternal care – a subject that has become more urgent in our current political landscape here in the States – we can understand a bit more about them.
Rachel Weisz sinks deep into her two roles by embracing the extremes, alternating her body language, speech patterns, and more to convey the differences between the Mantle twins. Aided by costumes, hair, and makeup, she is able to craft her own take separate from Jeremy Irons on the twins. What adds a specific heft to the updated version of these characters is the gender switch. Excluding spoilers, it ultimately grounds the series, but also adds different stakes.
Everyone else in the cast delivers as well, but there are notable standouts. Jennifer Ehle is hardly recognizable as the soulless Rebecca. Her character is genuinely unlikable outside of familial contributions to societal decline. Britne Oldford is the grounding performance that reinforces to the audience and Beverly how unhealthy codependency is. Michael Chernus’s Tom balances the line between hilarity and seriousness; while a confidant in some ways to Elliott, he is not afraid to point out how she’s screwed up. Everyone involved in the cast is ready to play and it shows.
Paying it back to the original
There are homages to the original in the look and feel of DEAD RINGERS. The series remembers its roots. The connection between the twins and the harm that it does to them. The bright red surgical clothing stands out starkly in a room of sterile white. It serves to remind us that the series isn’t a complete departure for fans of the original film.
The storytelling itself is a mixed bag, suffering from the time jumps of its predecessor. Oftentimes these are accompanied by quick edit cuts that distract more than not. These time jumps most notably take away from certain characters and storylines. In terms of the character development between the Mantle twins, that reads as one of DEAD RINGERS‘ successes. The expanded story allows for that dissection and development.
For those who are seeking something with likable characters, DEAD RINGERS shouldn’t be on your list. These are characters playing God and, while some have better intentions than others, how it manifests itself is likely to ruffle feathers. With that said, what the series has to say about birth is important. Its sheer frankness in displaying the good, the bad, and the ugly surrounding the birthing process is commendable. It shouldn’t be, but we live in a society that still prefers to shy away from the topic.
While it takes some adjusting, DEAD RINGERS stands on its own two wobbly feet. That’s not to say it’s perfect. There are some editing and storytelling decisions that are odd, with one major one that reveals its hand too soon. But Rachel Weisz commands the screen here. Unafraid to dive deep into the complicated psyche of both Mantle twins, she forces us to look on and witness the gradual descent into psychological destruction.
All six episodes premiere on April 21 exclusively on Prime Video in more than 240 countries and territories worldwide.
Content Warning: DEAD RINGERS depicts graphic childbirth displays and violence.
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