Playing to her underrated strengths in weird projects like The Lobster and The Favourite, Rachel Weisz takes on the Mantle siblings in a feverishly entertaining ‘twinning’ performance. Although the twins' names – Beverly and Elliot – remain fluidly unchanged, the reality of their being women is immediate. In the opening scene, they confront a male fetishist in a diner and mock his fantasies, mentally drawing him incestuous pictures with pitchy language.
Rachel Weisz as Elliot and Bev Mantle. Photo: Amazon
To differentiate between them: Bev’s hair is tied back, being the more introverted and radically minded twin; Elliot’s is loose, framing a face with a seductively rebellious smile and steely eyes of infinite appetite. They spend most moments together: going out to colourful New York nightclubs, living in their blandly luxurious apartment, and working as skilled gynaecologists in the same ward. They have ambitions to set up their own birthing centre to innovate with women’s bodies, under the philosophy that ‘pregnancy is not a disease’.
Oh, and they often ‘swap’ into each other’s personalities and no one can tell.
Dead Ringers slices and dices through a variety of bellies and babies, loyal to Cronenberg’s unnerving obsession with the human body. In the press release, Amazon states that ‘Viewer discretion is advised’ and this critic wants to echo the trigger warning. As well as the bloody mess of childbirth, the series dives into postnatal depression and harrowing stillbirths. Bev even talks to a miscarriage.
It’s horrific, yet there’s daring in the approach: one improbable to imagine without the all-female writers’ room. They turn the concept into a provocative acknowledgement of the horrors of creating life in the current ‘diabolical’ system. Birch even touches on the racial factors, evoking the scarily disproportionate maternal mortality rate in Black women compared to white women. Despite being too brief, it’s hard to think of another drama that tackles the subject so directly.
Jennifer Ehle as Rebecca Parker. Photo: Amazon
The sisters’ ambitions with the birthing centre tangle into place with financial backing from the ‘pure f***ing evil’ Parker family – transparently modelled on the Sacklers – led by the amoral and matriarchal Rebecca (an excruciatingly good Jennifer Ehle). Scenes in which Bev and Ellie have to coax this biliously industrious family resemble a near-dystopian Succession, with horsemeat served at dinner and a large vaginal portrait hanging on the wall.
The fact that several of the writers worked on Succession is clear not only from the capitalistic characters, but also the eloquently crude dialogue – entering arenas Jesse Armstrong wouldn’t dare. Some favourite lines: ‘It’s a beautiful mucus plug, congratulations’, ‘you’re still just that 14-year-old w***ing into her algebra homework’, ‘You’re the human equivalent of f***ing herpes … no one can f***ing douche you out.’ And with many C-words in between.
Dead Ringers is a funny, disturbing and disgusting miracle: baking such power into Weisz’s central performance(s), and crafting a Lynchian splintering of reality. And as the series progresses, you needle deeper into a psychosexual nightmare of traumatised doppelgangers and bleak corpocracy. The world is selfish and claustrophobic, painted in hypnotically metallic colours. Some storylines fall at the side, but they relax into the drama’s wondrous, uneasy somnambulance. It spurts, sticks and dries in your soul like a blood clot.
Dead Ringers is available on Prime Video from Friday 21 April.
|What||Dead Ringers (2023), Prime Video review|
21 Apr 23 – 21 Apr 24, ON PRIME VIDEO
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