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Dead Ringers review: a darkly funny sci-fi showcase for Rachel Weisz

Elliot and Beverly Mantle look at a baby together in Dead Ringers.
Dead Ringers
“Dead Ringers is a stylish and surprisingly funny black comedy that is anchored by two incredible performances from its star, Rachel Weisz.”
Pros
  • Rachel Weisz's powerhouse lead performances
  • An infectious, well-calibrated sense of dark humor throughout
  • A stylish, visually engaging aesthetic
Cons
  • A messy final pair of episodes
  • A flat and uninteresting romance subplot
  • A few lackluster supporting performances

Dead Ringers is the funniest show of the year. That might seem like a strange thing to say about a series that is itself an adaptation of an acclaimed David Cronenberg-directed body horror film from 1988, but such is the case with Dead Ringers. The new Prime Video limited series from The Wonder and Lady Macbeth writer Alice Birch approaches its subject matter with such a morbidly funny sense of humor that even its most startlingly brutal moments are able to cut deep without disrupting its delicate tonal balance.

The show’s ability to combine black comedy with shocking moments of sci-fi horror and gore isn’t just a testament to the wry, unsentimental tone that Birch brings to it, but also the ferocious work done by its star, Rachel Weisz. As the series’ twin leads, Beverly and Elliot Mantle, Weisz is alternatively soft and empathetic and gleefully mercurial, depending on which role she’s playing. Rarely has it ever been so much fun to watch one performer act opposite themselves on-screen, and rarely has it ever seemed so fun for the actor in question. To call the energy Weisz brings to Dead Ringers infectious would be an understatement.

Elliot and Beverly Mantle wear matching outfits in Dead Ringers.
Courtesy of Prime Video

The Oscar-winning actress is given double duty here. Much like Jeremy Irons before her, Weisz is tasked with portraying not just one brilliant gynecological surgeon in Dead Ringers, but two. In case that wasn’t enough, Elliot and Beverly Mantle also couldn’t be more different from each other. Whereas Beverly is a heartsick, shy genius who genuinely wants to make pregnancy easier for every woman around the world, Elliot is an adrenaline junkie who wants to use her and her sister’s long-desired birthing center to continue furthering her own scientific pursuits in private.

In order to open their birthing center, Beverly and Elliot have to win over Rebecca (Jennifer Ehle), a rich, mercenary investor who’s more interested in how the Mantle twins’ efforts will make her wealthier than she is in the humanitarian reasons behind their mission. However, just when Rebecca opens the door for Elliot and Beverly to get everything they’ve ever wanted, their relationship is tested by the introduction of Genevieve (Britne Oldford), a successful actress whose romance with Beverly starts to reveal the cracks in the Mantle sisters’ lifelong, codependent bond. Dead Ringers, consequently, mines most of its drama from the ways in which Beverly and Elliot — particularly the latter — react to the growing tension between them.

Weisz predictably dives all the way into that tension — portraying Elliot’s growing anxiety over her sister’s independence, as well as Beverly’s uncertainty about her own identity, with equal amounts of vigor and vulnerability. Physically, Weisz constantly finds new ways of differentiating her performances as Beverly and Elliot, whether it be the way she always wears her hair up in a ponytail when she’s the former or the way she communicates the latter’s anarchic sense of intense curiosity with the slightest of smirks or the occasional cock of the head. The actress never has anything but a firm chokehold over her material, even — and especially — in the moments when Elliot and Beverly don’t.

Rachel Weisz and Michael Chernus stand in a lab together in Dead Ringers.
Niko Tavernise/Prime Video

Narratively and structurally, Dead Ringers feels less assured than its star. The series’ first four installments are exhilaratingly constructed and performed. A majority of the show’s second episode is spent cutting back-and-forth between a satirical dinner party in which Beverly and Elliot are happily grilled by the rich friends of Ehle’s Rebecca and a car ride that Weisz’s twins took earlier in the day. It’s an ambitious structural decision, but one that pays off. By cutting between Rebecca’s dinner party and Beverly and Elliot’s journey to it, the episode not only avoids feeling too locked into one location, but it also allows its leads’ scathing opinions of Ehle’s rich donor and her friends to be interwoven with their interactions with them.

Dead Ringers’ first, third, and fourth installments offer similar pleasures, including one rooftop conversation between Weisz’s Elliot and a local homeless woman that strikes the perfect balance between surreal, perfect, and funny. In its final two installments, however, Dead Ringers begins to stumble. The series’ penultimate episode tells a Southern Gothic story about the horrifying history of modern gynecology that, despite the good intentions behind its inclusion, feels tonally, thematically, and visually like it belongs in another show. Meanwhile, in its finale, Dead Ringers tries to pay homage to its Cronenbergian roots by going all-in on body horror with a series of final twists that, while shocking, don’t amount to an entirely satisfying conclusion for the show’s story.

The impact of the narrative missteps it makes along the way, particularly in its second half, is lessened by the stylish work done by the series’ directors. Sean Durkin directs the show’s’ first two installments and achieves a cinematic look and style that helps differentiate Dead Ringers from so many of the less visually striking TV series that are on the air right now. The show’s black-and-white-heavy color palette reflects the juxtaposition between Weisz’s pale complexion and dark hair — making the actress feel as much like a part of the show’s Kubrickian world as she does its story. The series’ striking use of red throughout its six episodes also effectively communicates the horror elements that often lurk just beneath the surface of its plot.

Rachel Weisz screams in an elevator in Dead Ringers.
Niko Tavernise/Prime Video

Much like the unevenness of the show’s narrative structure, the performances given by Dead Ringers’ cast members aren’t as consistently compelling as one would hope they’d be. Veteran performers like Michael Chernus and Jennifer Ehle shine in largely one-note roles, but the same can’t be said for Oldford, whose chemistry with Weisz is practically nonexistent. The flatness of Oldford’s Genevieve, which can be attributed to both the actress’ performance as her and the lackluster way her character is written, makes it difficult to buy into her romance with Beverly. Unfortunately, the latter’s storyline suffers quite a bit as a result.

With a performer like Weisz at the helm, though, Dead Ringers is never in danger of becoming uninteresting or too messy to keep up with. In her dual leading roles, Weisz chews up and spits out everything that’s thrown her way and delivers one of the best double acts in recent TV history. Together, she and Birch turn Dead Ringers into a show that isn’t quite as vicious or heartbreaking as its Cronenbergian roots may suggest, but is far funnier and more entertaining than it has any right to be.

If nothing else, it’s worth seeking out as a reminder of how multifaceted a performer Weisz has always been. The true genius of her work here isn’t in just how thoroughly she devours Dead Ringers, either, but in how she manages to make the mere act of watching her do so feel so fun.

Dead Ringers premieres Friday, April 21 on Prime Video. Digital Trends was given early access to all six of the series’ episodes.

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Alex Welch
Alex Welch is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
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