David Cronenberg is a maestro of body horror and psychological thrillers. From the wonderfully absurd The Fly to his latest Crimes of the Future, Cronenberg is a master of his craft. And when reworking the creation of a master, critiques on whether it should be remade and doubts on whether it can undoubtedly rise. With the announcement of a gender swap miniseries version of Cronenberg‘s Dead Ringers with Rachel Weisz set to star, both excitement and uncertainty filled the conversation.
Dead Ringers not only honors the source material it hails from, it manages to brilliantly expand on the film, giving depth and broadening its central duo. It works hard to establish the relationship between the Mantle twins, stretching it to its limits while also elegantly descending them and the audience into madness. Yet, while it keeps much of the film alive in its veins, Dead Ringers (2023) manages to separate itself from Dead Ringers (1988), crafting its own identity. And while you may think “separation can be a… terrifying thing”, Rachel Weisz and the series proves it’s something to be embraced.
A Crescendo of Insanity
There is some uncertainty as the first episode of Dead Ringers begins. It is steady, but slow, working to introduce the twins to its audience while also attempting to connect to its source material. For those who have seen the film, you may find more of a connection than those who haven’t. It effectively feels as though we have entered into an existing world, one that is not here just for the moment and the story. Yet, it struggles to give importance to the twins, to truly make us care. There is a bit of nervousness that hangs as the first episode closes, a lot of interpersonal information conveyed by the twins, but with this lack of connection. That is until the final moments snap your attention, demanding that you carry through to the next episode.
As the series evolves, it begins to take on its own identity, leaning harder into the horror, psychological trauma, and mutilation of the 1988 classic. This is far from a gender reversal of roles and becomes deeper than its opening episode will lead viewers to believe. This is an elegantly crafted descent into madness, and the series weaves in and out of which twin the madness has taken hold of. At times you will find yourself questioning the reality of the series and the situations it harnesses, at times feeling a bit mad yourself. Yet, you will enjoy every moment of the ride.
This feels most prominent as each of the twins expands their roles from the film, Beverly the obstetrician and Elliot the researcher of fertility treatments and advances. The introduction of eugenics adds to the series’ multi-layered depiction of moral ambiguity. Through intent or negligence – even just an unwillingness to see what is so apparent – both the twins merge the moral aspects of both their life and work creating a dynamic motion to the madness and to their ever-evolving story. This is not a series of two twins going insane, but rather of two twins learning to live without the other – to form an identity beyond them, beyond one being.
A Refreshing Take
David Cornenberg may not be present, but he is never forgotten. From costume to set design, from story to visual composition, Dead Ringers may have an identity of its own, yet it never forgets its roots. While the barbiturates may be gone in the need to synch up, Dead Ringers do not forget the abusive habits that attribute to the twin’s downfall and subsequent madness for separation. The lack of drugs in comparison to the film makes the series here seem even more insane and unhinged. Much of the drama and descent is fueled by emotion, especially a shared emotion that has been cultivated and nurtured since birth. There may only be six episodes in the series, but at its core, it is fear that fuels each decision, emotion, and response from the Mantle twins.
Body horror remains in Dead Ringers, yet it becomes debatable whether it meets or supersedes the original film. “Mutilated” uteruses are far from the three cervix fixation of the film, yet find more of a broadband spectrum in healthcare amongst the challenges women face in their struggles to conceive and give birth. The bodily mutilation in fact here extends outside of the body. Where Cronenberg‘s twins thought of the beauty inside the body, the Mantle twins here, especially Elliot, see the medical elegance of disconnecting the beauty inside from the body itself. Further compounding the inclusion of bodily horror, Dead Ringers leans into the mind’s ability to craft images from stark revelation and the mind’s ability to create its own images. Episode five delivers on this horror, taking a poignant moment to shape the twins not as medical miracle workers, but rather as part of a lineage of medical abuse and power, darkening the beauty with ambition.
Red continues to be a thematic inclusion. Mirroring the blood-red scrubs of the film, Beverly and Elliot take it further, their clinic lit with the same hues of red on the carpet, and the walls – even sporting the color outside of the clinic. There is a sense of the metaphorical blood trail they leave in their wake and works to build an ominous tone that carries through each episode. But red is not limited to the twins as new characters are introduced that claim the color in their own way, giving an ambiguity to the morality to each person on screen.
The inclusion of more characters provides the series with not only an expansion of situations but a deeper depth to the twins themselves. While Claire is in the film, here actress Genevieve (Britne Oldford) works effectively as the catalyst of the maddening descent. Yet, Genevieve is given more of an inclusionary role in the series, giving breadth to the relationship with Beverly and delivering the most tragic of realizations by the film’s end. The Mantle’s parents, Alan (Kevin McNally) and Linda (Suzanne Bertish) are introduced, a backstory delivering a harrowing look at postpartum depression while grounding the psychology of Beverly and Elliot. Rebecca’s (Jennifer Ehle) involvement in Purdue Pharma and potentially the twins heightens the moral ambiguity of the series, almost becoming the fuel to the fire to push harder and for more. Torn (Michael Chernus), Elliot’s lab assistant, works as the film’s Jimmy Cricket, yet leans into his own moral dilemmas that wax and wane, weaving in and out of the work of the twins, cushioning both their successes and their failures. Greta (Poppy Liu) and Susan (Emily Meade) work as the series’s version of a pure heart, yet even they add a layer of ambiguity that leaves questions on the morality of even the purest of humanity.
While Cronenberg is far from forgotten, neither is Jeremy Irons. His performance in the film was an undeniable powerhouse, harnessing a contrasting twin duo that descends into a maddening immersion of two individuals. The acting prowess of Irons made Dead Ringers as much of a success as Cronenberg‘s steady direction. And for Amazon’s Dead Ringers, Rachel Weisz delivers. She is beyond incredible in the power and contrast she is able to harness for both Beverly and Elliot. Weisz commits herself mind and body to the maddening relationship of the Mantle twins, finding each crevice that makes them both different and the same. She leans into each of their intricacies, reaching beyond costume and hair for differentiation, allowing the muscles in her face and body language to speak for the sisters. Award season is still some months away, but with this career-best performance, she is sure to find herself in the running.
The series does leave a few loose ends that will have viewers hammering for a second season. And you will find yourself wanting more – loose ends aside. Much like the film, it works into a cacophony of insanity, yet as visuals, dialogue, and feel resonate through the final episode, Dead Ringers breaks away from Cronenberg, cutting itself from its source material in a sense effectively mirroring it. And this separation from source opens the door for more – to want more.
In its final moments, Dead Ringers proves not only the power of the limited series but the ability to successfully remake a classic for a new age of viewers.
Dead Ringers is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.