Dead Ringers (1988)
Written By: Angela DiLella
Edited By: Grave Reviews Staff
Director: David Cronenberg
Producers: Mark Boyman, David Cronenberg
Writers: David Cronenberg, Norman Snider
Based on the book Twins by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland
Date Released: September 8, 1988
Jeremy Irons as Beverly Mantle/Elliot Mantle
Genevive Bujold as Claire Niveau
Heidi von Palleske as Cary
Rating = 3/5 Graves
***May contain some spoilers***
Identical twin gynecologists Beverly and Elliot run an unethical practice that involves seducing patients and passing them from one to the other. When Elliot seduces the women, he sleeps with them and then passes them onto Beverly. The patients are unaware of the switch and the mind games begin. But, when a woman named Claire becomes involved with the twins seriously, their lives and minds begin to unravel.
Surprisingly, this Cronenberg movie only features one real body horror moment in full view, but that one scene is very effective. Otherwise, much of the gore and body horror is implied, described, or just out-of-shot.
The Grave Review
Where would the horror genre be without creepy twins? The concept behind this story—male doctors seducing female patients and passing them between each other because they’re completely identical—is creepy enough on its own. The real trouble for them starts when Beverly (Jeremy Irons) gets attached to Claire (Genevieve Bujold) after which the brothers start feeling like they are falling apart, because for the first time, they are not “in synch” with each other. Although these ideas are interesting, the second idea feels as if it was introduced a hair too late to really take root, and sometimes this part of the movie limps along somewhat. The ideas are all interesting and immensely creepy (especially for viewers who require gynecological or other invasive procedures regularly), but just like the twin brothers Beverly and Elliot, they don not seem to quite synch up.
Jeremy Irons owns this movie. When you are playing both of the main characters, it would be hard not to. Although you may think that Irons would portray a similar role playing both brothers, each brother is portrayed as a character with his own unique characteristics. Not only does Irons make each twin feel like a unique individual, but he also attempts to have the twin imitate the other, both successfully and unsuccessfully. In addition, he even shows the brothers being good and bad actors, which is impressive, considering Irons is a great actor. He’s so good I know that when he’s being bad, he’s pretending well! Even though the movie dawdled and sometimes lost me due to that, Irons was always transfixing in his performances. Additionally, cuts and shots are done very cleverly, so it is rarely ever awkward when the brothers interact, even when they are meant to be onscreen together. It feels natural, even when logically you know that the brother turned away from the camera or just a body double.
Dead Ringers is an interesting enigma because it carries so many disturbing, horrific ideas. The problem is that there is so much to be implied that it feels like the viewer is doing an awful lot of heavy lifting, or Cronenberg wasn’t allowed to do or show everything he wanted to. The movie gave me the creeps, but the brothers getting unethical with patients in many ways, including sticking incorrect and unsafe instruments into people (a few of them harken back to inquisitors’ tools) are something I can imagine on a visceral level. However, I do not know if these scenarios would work to horrify a viewer who does not have to deal with these or similarly invasive exams regularly.
Generally, Cronenberg does not shy away from full-frontal body horror, but in Dead Ringers, it seemed that most of his body horror was muted in some ways. He does have one classic body horror sequence in the film, but it’s unrelated to these invasive exams that seem like they are meant to be the real source of horror. Of course, there could have been limits to what he really could have shown given the nature of the brothers’ work, but it does make you wonder what studio limitations were in place, when you consider other things that Cronenberg has shown in his films.
Dead Ringers also seems to have a strange tone. The ethical abuses of the doctors are creepy, the concept of the brothers being virtually conjoined twins is as well, but the two concepts just do not quite seem to work together well. It feels like the movie is decisively split into “Before Claire/After Claire,” which is too bad, because these ideas could have been melded together more smoothly. I think that is why the movie feels as if it is dawdling at times, sometimes feeling as if it is more of a drama rather than a horror film. (In fact, the jury seems to be out: Dead Ringers regularly makes top ten/fifty/100 horror lists, but just as many sites ID it as a thriller or drama, not horror.) If you’re a little shy of Cronenberg’s other works, this may be the one you can stomach. If you are a Cronenberg fan, you’ll probably be a little disappointed at the muted nature of this one. Nevertheless, I would still recommend film, if for nothing else than Jeremy Irons’s performances, which make the experience more than worth it.
For the foregoing reasons, Grave Reviews gives Dead Ringers (1988) three graves out of five graves.
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