In the follow-up to his debut movie, the offbeat coming-of-age story of Submarine, Richard Ayoade delves into darker themes with The Double. Based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella, The Double is a dystopian noir thriller that fails to deliver the same entertainment value, despite the self-aware gags and wisecracks.
Jesse Eisenberg plays Simon James, a meek, deskbound office worker whose existence for the past seven years has revolved around a Communist Bloc-era industrial factory, full of misfits and bizarre contraptions. From the outset, when Simon gives up his seat to a fellow commuter on an empty train, his passive nature is cause for consternation and humour. Unrecognised by all (the scenes with the factory security guard are a real treat) unless when condescended towards by an overbearing boss, Simon mumbles and jitters through each day – pining for his dream girl, Hannah (Mia Wasikowska), who treats him with mocking disinterest.
The protagonist’s sedentary life takes a dramatic turn when his doppelganger, James Simon, begins work. Though a mirror image of Simon, James is everything Simon isn’t: charismatic, playful and a manipulative sociopath. As James charms the girls and factory management, Simon becomes increasingly ostracised by his colleagues, despite doing most of James’ work. The final straw for Simon is when James starts messing with his love interest.
Eisenberg also excels as the brattish scoundrel, constantly exploiting his twin as the whole factory responds to his every word (cue a hilariously bad Chinese takeaway joke). Ayoade has a knack for inserting these charmingly naff moments, and they help lighten the mood. Cameos from Australia’s Noah Taylor and The IT Crowd’s Chris O’Dowd provide a nice counterpoint to the film’s attempt to replicate the warped nightmarish worlds of David Lynch (the soundtrack is pure Eraserhead) and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.
What stops this film from being memorable is the disappointing confrontation and climax. Clocking in at a compact 93 minutes, the conclusion feels forced and rushed and will most likely evoke shrugs from audiences. For those who are sold on Ayoade’s quirky humour and noir aesthetic, it’s likely they’ll find The Double refreshing, but for most it’s something to watch at 11:30pm on a Saturday night – interesting, but it definitely won’t be the highlight of your night.
The Double opens in cinemas May 8.