David Cronenberg is arguably the father of Canadian horror. From Shivers to Rabid to The Fly, Cronenberg made body horror a household genre for horror fans, and his 1988 film Dead Ringers, although a slight departure, is no exception.
Twins Beverly and Elliot Mantle (Jeremy Irons) are brilliant gynaecologists who run a fertility clinic in Toronto. While their practice thrives, Beverly isn’t an outgoing sort, so when Eliot, who takes every opportunity to date their patients, tires of his conquests, he passes them on to Beverly. The twins are identical, and the women they seduce barely notice the difference until a popular actress named Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold) comes to them for treatment. Her unusual anatomy intrigues Eliot and passes her on to Beverly to experience her “inner beauty.” Beverly falls for her, creating a rift between the brothers. Mixing in addiction and their unhealthy, symbiotic relationship, the love triangle becomes a dark spiral into obsession, cruelty, and madness.
Loosely based on a book entitled “Twins” by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland about tragic real-life twin gynaecologists Stewart and Cyril Marcus, Dead Ringers yields an award-winning performance from Irons, who plays the two brothers with brilliant complexity. Fans of Cronenberg can expect a more subtle approach to his typical body horror with more of a glimpse of the unnatural, focusing on the madness brewing within the twins’ psyche and the terrifying medical devices Beverly creates. Ultimately, there is no redemption for the doomed brothers, making Dead Ringers a part of cinematic history for its high-concept psychological study of battling identities.