Alice Birch (“Normal People,” “Succession“) adapts David Cronenberg’s 1988 film “Dead Ringers,” swapping the male twin gynecologists with female ones, exploring the world of womanhood and pregnancy in an intrinsic manner rather than sticking to the concept of “twins” as the original film does. Gory, disturbing, repugnant, chaotic, and sexy are some words that come to mind to describe the six-episode mini-series. This is a fair warning for the squeamish because, along with a lot of blood and body horror, there are many birthing scenes that are rather uncomfortable to watch. Don’t expect to leave anything to your imagination because there is no holding back in “Dead Ringers.” The term “baby sister” will never be the same again.
“Dead Ringers” follows the Mantle twins (Rachel Weisz), Beverley and Elliot (same as in the 1988 film), who are genius gynecologists by profession. Ridiculously, along with sharing a profession, they also share partners—essentially everything in life. In true twin fashion, their differentiating factor is how they oppose each other psychologically. Bev is the introverted stickler for rules who occasionally has breakdowns from severely repressing her feelings, whereas Elliot is the more eccentric, drug-snorting, dirty-mouthed sister who is incapable of maternal love but has the need to do everything her sister wants. Elliot is the more eloquent of the two, having a silver tongue for the upper-class investors who will provide the twins with the money they need to build their dream maternity and birthing research center. Ethics know no bounds for the Mantle sisters as they push their way through new discoveries or find their way into their patients in questionable manners. One of these patients happens to be a popular actress, Genevieve, and Beverley takes a liking to her. This begins a massive conflict between the co-dependent sisters.
Rachel Weisz brings two entirely different characters to the stage as the Mantle twins. Just like her predecessor, Jeremy Irons, the actress, who pretty much has her hair down as one twin and up as the other, uses body language and facial expressions to easily embody the two opposing powers. “Separation is terrifying,” and this feeling is palpable. Poppy Liu perplexes Greta and keeps you concerned throughout the entire series. Jennifer Ehle is simultaneously despicable and sexy as the capitalist Rebecca, whose thirst for power, money, and babies seems unquenchable. Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine as Silas is an eerie entry in the latter half of the show who is calm in demeanor but aggressive in dialogue, making a very interesting villain. While the film was more of a psychoanalysis of the Mantle Twins that ripped them apart, the show is a product of its time. As we know, art reflects the culture, and the larger differences in “Dead Ringers” make it deeply rooted in 2023. Showcasing the lack of medical assistance for pregnant women, gender bias in infertility, and, most profoundly, postpartum depression. As a psychological thriller, “Dead Ringers” is not only captivating but effective in creating a thin film, or should I say layer of skin, between what’s real and what’s not. The show keeps you guessing even as a fan of the David Cronenberg film, which makes it a great adaptation already.
Shocking is an understatement for some of the scenes of the show, specifically one that combines visuals of cutting into meat that appear to be too close in shape to the female reproductive organ with talks of the rather dark matter regarding the functions of said organ. While grotesque to watch, it is quite fascinating and keeps you holding on until the moment is disrupted by retching (not the viewer, of course). The whole show painted red gives off an icy feeling until the very end, which keeps you reeling. Visually, “Dead Ringers” is enchanting, lifting the veil between gory and stunning in mere seconds. The soundtrack adds to the eeriness of the game between what is ethical and what is not. What is interesting is that even though both sisters are morally gray, there’s something good they want to do. For what reason exactly? No one knows, not even themselves.
“Dead Ringers” too finds itself among the myriad pieces of entertainment loosely but fondly classified as “eat the rich” media. Alternating the perspective between why Beverly needs money but also why she hates these people while Elliot thoroughly thrives amongst this opioid empire is a highlight in the show. There’s not a dull moment either, with impeccable comic timing narrowly escaping through the dark matter. I want to say I loved “Dead Ringers,” but that wouldn’t be entirely true; I have been scarred for life by some of those hospital scenes (and I’ve stomached the 2013 version of “Evil Dead”). I can say it made me squirm, but I also laughed at intervals and questioned the medical world. The “Horrors of Womanhood” could also be an interesting title for this show, seeing how it largely surrounds itself with the many social issues of women and their bodies. Although sometimes overboard, “Dead Ringers” brings a nuanced take on pregnancy horror and showcases all aspects of the same.
It’s almost as if Birch compares the chaos at a dinner scene to that within a woman’s mind and body when she is pregnant. There is more than one chaotic dinner scene where dozens of people talk over each other, and yet you find yourself directed towards certain answers that you’re looking for. Even in a casual viewing, one can see the brilliant use of reflective objects that, for moments, make you wonder if you’re seeing double or if it is indeed the twins. Along with being addicted to drugs, Elliot also uses food as a coping mechanism for being separated from her twin, not to mention that it is really fun to see Rachel Weisz thoroughly enjoy her food and take the largest bites of some delicious-looking food. While occasionally, “Dead Ringers” gets overwhelmed by its ambition, it holds its ground and reflects real life on screen in the form of a psychosexual thriller. Thought-provoked is the least you can be after finishing this mini-series. I highly recommend watching it with somebody because you will want to discuss those last couple of episodes. Throughout the show, you find love between these twins, where Elliot does “everything” for Bev, but after a certain point, you begin to wonder if, in fact, they actually hate each other and can’t be separated.
With massive profanity, sexual content, violence, pregnancy gore, and mention of suicide, “Dead Ringers” is binge-worthy if one is able to keep their food down. Rachel Weisz alone is reason enough—or rather, two reasons—to watch this show. I give “Dead Ringers” 3.8 out of 5 stars. Three is for the vexing guest appearance by Michael McKean.