Prime Video’s latest thriller, Dead Ringers, is based on David Cronenberg’s 1988 cult film of the same name starring Jeremy Irons, which was itself based on the novel Twins by Bari Wood (who was inspired by a true story). The six-episode series comes from writer/creator Alice Birch (Succession, Normal People), actress/executive producer Rachel Weisz (Disobedience), and an all-women writers’ room, including illustrious directors like Lauren Wolkstein (Queen Sugar) and Karyn Kusama (Yellowjackets). When asked about the gender-swapped reimagining, Birch said that making the twins women “changes everything, but it also changes nothing.”
Identical twins Elliot and Beverly Mantle (Weisz) are brilliant and successful obstetricians who dream of radically improving women’s health, particularly fertility, pregnancy, and childbirth. While Beverly wants a birthing center where women can feel a sense of comfort and control of their bodies, Elliot would rather be in the lab creating life from nothing. She’s the mad scientist to her sister’s Mother Teresa.
After years of success in the healthcare industry, their dreams are finally within reach when they meet Rebecca Parker (Jennifer Ehle), a wealthy investor, and her altruistic partner Susan (Emily Meade). But what really turns their lives upside down is the arrival of Genevieve (Britne Oldford), an actress and patient who Beverly is so enamored by that Elliot has to step in and seal the deal for her. Naturally, the two are pros when it comes to impersonating each other. All it takes is a quick hairstyle change and a shoe swap, and no one knows the difference.
The Mantle twins are such bizarre characters with conflicting personalities and desires yet they have this beautiful and deeply unsettling symbiotic relationship. Both are brilliant, determined, dedicated, and regularly called extraordinary by others and themselves. They are quick-witted and always get their point across in their posh accents and eloquent, expletive-laced speech. As Weisz told Net-a-Porter, they’re “massively successful and, equally, messed up.” In other words, they’re the definition of complex characters.
Elliot is the extrovert of the pair, living life without a filter or genuine concern for anyone other than her baby sister. She’s playful, kinda mean, confident, aggressive, impulsive, sometimes giddy, always inappropriate, and a bit delusional at times. Elliot doesn’t deprive herself of anything. She’s indulgent with a ferocious appetite akin to Killing Eve’s Villanelle (Jodie Comer) and Orphan Black’s Helena (Tatiana Maslany). But she’s not just not hungry for food. She’s absolutely ravenous when it comes to sex, groundbreaking scientific research, and the power she gets from both. Not long after spending time with her outside a hospital setting, Genevieve tells her, “You’re a lot.” This sums up her character and the series in general.
In contrast, Beverly is controlled, uncomfortable with eye contact, and doesn’t always speak her mind, even when she’s right. She cares more about her patients than herself. I appreciate that they didn’t make her stereotypically frumpy with glasses and unkempt hair. Beverly wears sensible shoes and her hair pulled back in a bun; the opposite of her sister’s heels and glamorous locks.
Since birth, Elliot and Beverly have functioned as two halves of a whole rather than full individuals. In her seamless performance, Weisz gives each twin different subtleties that make them distinguishable whether it’s Elliot’s seductive gaze or Beverly’s more closed-off body language. However, no matter how much we think we know who’s who, there’s always the chance that one twin is impersonating the other.
It’s mentioned a few times that the Mantle sisters are sociopaths and they definitely give off that vibe. But the way they interact with their patients, especially during childbirth, shows that they’re not completely devoid of emotion. Like every other thing about them, they just have an unusual way of expressing feelings.
Though the series begins in a somewhat familiar world with blue scrubs and hospitals, Dead Ringers exist in a heightened reality. The closer they get to their dream, the farther they are from real life. Elliot and Beverly part with their standard blue hospital scrubs in favor of blood-red ensembles under white coats, the over-the-top cult-y aesthetic previously donned by Jeremy Irons.
The series has similar story beats to the film but unfolds entirely differently. With the Mantle sisters, women’s health is less clinical and more personal than it was for the Mantle brothers. Cronenberg is known for his mastery of body horror and though Dead Ringers are tame in comparison to his other work, blood is still spilled. Though the real horror isn’t gory. It’s the clinking of the instruments and winces of the patients that illicit a stomach-churning reaction.
Within the first five minutes of the series, we see a montage of the Mantles delivering baby after baby. It’s a very intimate look at the messy and chaotic process with blood spilling, babies crying, and mothers screaming. It’s jarring and graphic and would probably fall under the body horror category. However, it’s natural and just the reality of creating life, the inherent horror of a human expelling a smaller human from their body.
Cinematographers Laura Merians Goncalves (Generation) and Jody Lee Lipes (The Good Nurse) use a lot of low camera angles and voyeuristic shots when it comes to filming the ensemble cast. The quick-cut editing between some scenes is disorienting and gets your blood pumping as a viewer. Though the most effective elements come from a combination of sound and visuals. In one scene, the character of Marion (Michael McKean) laments about his years of experience as a doctor, recalling a particularly horrific case, all while everyone’s eating dinner. Throughout his monologue, the camera cuts to a close-up of someone cutting up their food; we hear the sounds of utensils scraping the plate and the squishiness of tearing into the meat.
Aside from the clinking of gynecological instruments, the squelching sliminess of childbirth, and various other unpleasant sounds, the series has a fantastic soundtrack. Composer/performer Murray Gold (Doctor Who) created a whimsical score with a classical edge using strings and keys to go from almost fairytale-like to ominous. And as a nod to the 1988 film, the song list includes 80s gems like Sweet Dreams, Tainted Love, and Don’t You Want Me.
Dead Ringers is a twisted tale of obsession that’s both dreamy and nightmarish, darkly funny and painfully tragic, fascinating, disturbing, and ironically, one of a kind. The timely series sets itself apart from the iconic film while paying homage to the 80s aesthetic and the insular world of the Mantle twins built by David Cronenberg. Though it’s the blend of many elements that makes this a psychologically enthralling six hours of television, Rachel Weisz’s double tour de force is the highlight (or highlights).
All six episodes of Dead Ringers premiere on April 21, 2023, on Prime Video.
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Cassondra Feltus is a St. Louis-based freelance writer best known for film, television, and pop culture analysis which has appeared on Black Girl Nerds, WatchMojo, Mental Floss, and The Take. She loves naps, Paul Rudd, and binge-watching the latest series with her two gorgeous pups – Harry and DeVito.