Writer/director/actor Richard Ayoade has two feet firmly in comedic quirk. He’s most recognizable as straitlaced, bespectacled Moss from the British comedy series The IT Club, and his directorial film debut, 2010’s Submarine, was a smart, offbeat take on the coming-of-age genre. But while there’s a subtle, sly sense of humor to Ayoade’s new project, an adaptation of the Dostoyevsky novella The Double, for the most part it’s about as far from the world of quirky comedies as it’s possible to get.
In a dreary, undefined bureaucratic dystopia—Brazil is an unavoidable touchstone—Jesse Eisenberg stars as James Simon, a sad-sack office drone who’s creepily obsessed with a girl who works in the copy room. One day, a new man appears at the office: Simon James, also played by Eisenberg. Simon is in every way the opposite of James. He’s friendly, appealing to women, and confident where James is clumsy, careless, and anxious. And while Simon initially positions himself as an ally, soon their relationship takes a menacing turn, threatening James’s very sense of identity.
The Double is more interested in questions than answers: Is Simon a hallucination? Has James lost his mind? It’s not an entirely satisfying experience, if we define “satisfying” as “plot tied up with a bow on it”—but it is a curious, provocative, and absorbing one.