David Cronenberg may not be one of my all-time favourite directors, but do admire him greatly. Even he is not a personal favourite, he is for me one of the most interesting and unique directors out there, his directing style, his themes and how he explores them and how he manages to get the best out of talented actors. He may be one of the originators of the "body horror" genre, but his films are much more than just full on gore and horror, a good deal of his films are disturbing and weird sure but there is humour and emotion in his films too.
All of this is exemplified in 'Dead Ringers'. Do consider it one of his best films and one of my favourites of his too, one of his finest triumphs and also Jeremy Irons' (have said a couple of times about loving him as an actor, one who is deservedly lauded but also deserving of more credit due to a hit and miss filmography, even in the misses he is more often than not a redeeming quality but even then he has been generally deserving of better material for a while now) biggest triumph. Some people might find it weird and slow, from personal view 'Dead Ringers', loosely based on a true story, left me transfixed and from the first time of seeing it it became a personal favourite. It is one of the most disturbing and wonderfully strange films seen by me, but it is also one of the Cronenberg films that connected with me emotionally too (some may disagree with this) and by Cronenberg standards to me it is one of his most accessible.
'Dead Ringers' is one of Cronenberg's best looking films, showing his mastery of visual accomplishment and special effects. Not just looking sleek and stylish, but it also features some of the cleverest and most complex camera work of any Cronenberg film, primarily in the use of split screen when Elliot and Beverly are on screen at the same time and that of travelling matte, done so seamlessly with no obviousness at all to the point of being undetectable. The use of computer technology for positions of the split and camera is also ingenious and still looks great now, it is not over-utilised and certainly not abused, any obviousness is not here either.
Howard Shore's, a Cronenberg regular, score adds a lot. It is hauntingly beautiful, understated in places and unsettling in others as well as melancholic in a slightly dark way. When one hears the score on its own, which then is wonderful in its own right, and then reads of the film or its synopsis (far creepier than the music indicates perhaps),one may think do the two go together and would the score feel at odds. To me the two did go very well together, really liked and appreciated that Shore didn't go for the obvious jump scare in a sudden instrumental sound, ominous bass line, effectively shrill strings or synthesised touches. Instead he goes for fitting with the story's emotional core, not something you expect for a film of this type, and the longing quality makes it a surprisingly poignant score. It does heavily contribute as to why the opening titles sequence, which is also truly beautifully designed with the drawings and design of the instruments seen being quite ominous, is one of my favourite opening title sequences ever and this is meant seriously.
Cronenberg's direction is a big star here. He manages to make the atmosphere very unnerving without being over-reliant on gore, some in sight but appropriately muted yet still creepy in its own way, instead of overtly grisly, and as ever shows a mastery of visual style and effects. He still manages to maintain enough momentum in the story's deliberately reserved first portion to still make it compelling. The script has a good deal of talk, especially in the first portion, but didn't feel overly heavy on it, while also being thought-probing. A lot of meat here, and meat that is lean and without fat or parts that are unintentionally funny (even the dialogue in the opening scene).
The story is structured beautifully and while deliberate at times it never felt dull to me, the reserved, subtle feel of the early parts of the film, where things were setting up and developing, is not something one associates for the genre or if thinking of Cronenberg but is beautifully done and was appreciated, the relationships between the characters (especially between the brothers and the sibling rivalry) well established and interesting. The more the film progressed the more unsettling, in a devillish sort of way, and quite disturbing it got. Some have said the first half is better, for me the more complex Beverly and Elliot became and the atmosphere became more intense that's when 'Dead Ringers' got even better. It's one of not many films etc. that put me off fertility clinics forever, while the frighteningly gruesome dream sequence and the truly disturbing yet also emotionally devastating last third (namely the operating theatre scene, well everything to do with the operating theatre actually, which to me is one of the most memorable scenes in a Cronenberg film) have long stayed with me whenever watching. The gynecological instruments are also suitably nightmarish. Yet, 'Dead Ringers' is much more than full on horror, Beverly's depression is portrayed very poignantly.
Genevieve Bujold gives an intense and deeply felt performance, it may be easy to forget talking about her with such big impressions left by Cronenberg and Irons but one really shouldn't. She and Irons have a subtle but always believable chemistry. Other than Cronenberg, 'Dead Ringers' biggest star is Irons, magnificent in his career best performance for the ages in two roles, the most challenging and most courageous role(s) of his career, even more so than Humbert Humbert and Claus Von Bulow. Two increasingly complex roles and what was remarkable was how Irons took two characters identical to each other and made them completely different and individual in personality and how they look and behave, doing it with intensity and nuance without overdoing it or making either character too passive (even when one is deliberately stronger in personality than the other). Many say that his performance here was more Oscar-worthy than the performance that got him an Oscar in 'Reversal of Fortune'. Actually think that his win for that performance was a more worthy win in a strong category that year and that he was terrific in that film, but he does give the better performance here in my mind and that he was not even nominated for the big awards (namely Golden Globes and Academy Awards, am aware that 'Dead Ringers' scored big with the Genie Awards but the film and Irons deserved even better than not) is one of the year's biggest and most inexplicable oversights. If asked what the best performance in a Cronenberg film is, Irons' is a very strong contender and in the top 3 if to rank.
Overall, a brilliant film and one of Cronenberg's best and most interesting films. 10/10