It's a potent thriller whose opening credits manage to send a chill down your spine, but that's what happens in 'Dead Ringers,' the story of a pair of twins who take separation anxiety a little too literally.
Jeremy Irons stars as both Beverly and Elliot Mantle, a pair of radical and popular gynocologists whose bizarre personalities unravel when one of them falls for a beautiful actress, Claire Niveau, played by Genevieve Bujold.
Director David Cronenberg -- who also helped write and produce the screenplay based on the book 'Twins' -- plays the tension and horror of this demented tale of twins to the hilt. 'Dead Ringers' may put back the practice of gynecology a few centuries, but it does so with the mastery of a true horror classic. (Is there anyone who can look at the figure of an ancient Egyptian mummy and not remember that 1932 classic starring Boris Karloff?)
Here, the opening credits roll by to the strains of soothing, classical music and some 19th century medical/gynecological sketches. Some of the instruments so drawn seem ominously scary; at least 50 percent of the audience will shudder at the sight of long-pronged probes and other devices displayed.
That's only the beginning. The medical instruments -- delicate pieces of art, really, but so steely and sharp they scare you to death - reappear throughout the film, symbolizing both the twins's brilliance in their medical career and their final dementia.
Other special effects, so important in horror films, are prominent in 'Dead Ringers' as well. Although the split screen shenanigans that seem inherent in doing a story of identical twins are self-consciously evident in the first frames of the film, they melt away quickly, thanks to the wonderful work done by Irons. It is his film, after all. Irons must play the angel and devil in this pair of twins, and then pull a real switch and have the twins's characters do a flip-flop by movie's end. It is acting skill well worth the price of admission, though so well performed it's almost too awful to watch at times, as the doctor-twins spiral into a drugged finale.
Bujold also manages a strikingly erotic -- and frightening - performance here as well. As the beautiful actress unable to have a child, Claire Niveau seems resigned to a promiscuous and 'dead' life, until she falls for Beverly Mantle, the sweet twin. Just as they both reach out to each other, however, Elliot, the devil twin, exerts his considerable influence to keep Beverly close by.
The twins believe they literally depend on one another for life, and must be synchronized, both in life and love, or die.
Their increasing insanity is both lurid and horribly funny. There are scenes that will stay with you well into the next doctor visit, especially if that visit is to a gynecologist. And the end is chaotic and bloody, in contrast to the neat and beautiful structure of the film beforehand.
'Dead Ringers' may be a beautifully structured and well-acted movie, but it certainly's isn't an easy film to watch. Still, if you like horror movies, this one will keep you on the edge of your seat, albeit squirming every minute.
This film is rated R. Movie contains sexual and violent material.