Does Prime's 'Dead Ringers' Breathe Life into 1988 Movie?

Dead Ringers Rachel Weisz Beverly Mantle Elliot Mantle Amazon Prime Video Jeremy Irons Beverly Mantle 20th Century Fox
Courtesy of Prime (L) / 20th Century Fox (R)

This spoiler-free review of “Dead Ringers” on Amazon Prime Video is based on watching the first and final episode of the TV series, and the 1988 movie “Dead Ringers.”

“Dead Ringers” is back with a vengeance in Amazon’s television adaptation of the edgy 1988 movie of the same name. Switching out Jeremy Irons for Rachel Weisz, the 2023 drama created by Alice Birch uses its source material as a jumping-off point to dig ever deeper into a troubling tale. That would be the psychological entanglement of symbiotic entities who do not know life apart from one another.

To the world, they are known as twins. For the mythos of “Dead Ringers,” their being so means much more than that. Beverly and Elliot Mantle (Rachel Weisz) are twin sisters and OBGYNs, who share every aspect of their lives. No portion of their existence is off limits. As with anything - moderation is the key to striking a healthy balance. 

The Mantle sisters fail or refuse to grasp this concept.

Unlike its movie counterpart, Amazon’s “Dead Ringers” are obstetricians, which provides a topical branch for the series to explore, criticize, and speculate about fixing. In the first episode, the TV show plunges head-first into a host of hot-button issues facing the world of obstetrics. What detracts from the discussion is the way the Mantle sisters are presented. (More on that in a minute.)

As “Dead Ringers” progresses throughout its first episode, Beverly and Elliot insist they want to change how women give birth. They (correctly) see how the healthcare system is failing people. Enter a deliciously foreboding Jennifer Ehle as anti-philanthropist Rebecca Parker. Along with desiring a dramatic overhaul in patient care, Elliot wants to change even more. At the top of that list is Elliot successfully getting Beverly pregnant with a baby she can carry to term.

It feels like a realistic, not lofty goal. In the real world, grandmothers have given birth to their grandchildren. Hence, many advancements still feel like they are on the table. While Elliot wants science to catch up with her ambitions, Beverly wants to help patients’ birthing experience. Elliot is pragmatic, Beverly is idealistic, and they should be the perfect team.

If only something were not churning beneath the surface. 

They dress and speak poshly, yet obnoxiously eat in front of people. They consume whatever is in front of them with their mouths wide open, acting as if they are dying of hunger. There is also the matter of inscrutable screaming in the bathroom. This scene recalls one critically acclaimed movie’s most puzzling and ridiculous scenes wherein Amy Adams’ character yelled on the toilet in “American Hustle.” (Yikes.)

I get it. “Dead Ringers” wants to be edgy. Characters obnoxiously eating with their mouths full, bizarre screaming, and focusing on the crudely banal is not how you go about it. There is also the heaviness of the cinematography with its oppressive choice of dark, sterile, and ominous hues. Oh, and the atmosphere is heavy with the sense of ever-escalating madness.

Ultimately, the Amazon miniseries feels as crowded and claustrophobic as the space in a past-due womb. Rachel Weisz successfully plays her dual role to the hilt. Weisz approaches each scene with the confident, tender footing of a lioness circling her meal. Her eyes glimmer with the keen sense that she is about to devour something epic. It is only a matter of sinking her teeth into it.

Still, it is impossible not to compare the Amazon series to director David Cronenberg’s standout 1988 movie.

There is tender nuance to Jeremy Irons’ performances as Beverly and Elliot in the psychological thriller. Without him needing to say a word, it is clear which twin Irons is playing in every scene. It helps that they are written as similar but distinctive. In the new “Dead Ringers,” Rachel Weisz’s twins are indistinguishable except for their differing hairstyle choices.

The number one issue with “Dead Ringers” is not too much “twinning.” It is dark, impenetrably gloomy, and sterile at the same time. In the first episode, it is up to standout Britne Oldford to change that. Oldford’s turn as Genevieve is textured, layered with empathy and an ethereal warmth. She also has terrific chemistry with Rachel Weisz, making their ensuing relationship entirely believable.

No one who values their emotional well-being, including Genevieve, should get involved with this drowning duo. If my emotional health can withstand its gloom and doom, this Amazon Prime subscriber may revisit the series. For now, I will settle upon finishing my research into the real twins that inspired “Dead Ringers.” Stay tuned.

“Dead Ringers” 2023 is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The original 1988 “Dead Ringers” movie is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max (where I watched it), Hulu, and for free on Tubi.