Comedian Richard Ayoade follows up his first feature Submarine with The Double, a neat reworking of the Dostoyevsky novella starring Jesse Eisenberg and Mia Wasikowska.
Eisenberg plays Simon James, a downtrodden office drone whose miserable existence is made even worse by the arrival of a duplicitous doppelganger, James Simon, who is also played by Eisenberg. A strange surreal comedy, the movie shows Ayoade's growing confidence as a film-maker.
Simon lives his life in a totalitarian corporate world that is forever artificially lit, wearing his suit both at the office and home. He's a feeble shadow of a man, "pretty unnoticeable, a bit of a non-person," as one character notes. He's unrecognised at work, despite being at the company for seven years, bullied by his mother, despite showing nothing but love towards her, and unnoticed by Hannah, played by Mia Wasikowska, the photocopier girl at work he is smitten with.
The world conspires against him to such an absurd extent that he cannot speak without being lambasted, or kick a door in frustration without being punished. He looks so pathetic and hopeless that when a police squad investigates near his home they note him down as a 'maybe' candidate for future suicide.
A sluggish start gradually reveals more of the nightmarish world he inhabits, before doppelganger James arrives. Despite looking identical he is the opposite of Simon - charming with women, confident at work and assertive around others. In a spate of Kafkaesque cruelty this carbon copy muscles in on Simon's life, dating Hannah, passing off his office work as his own and even taking the keys to his apartment.
Eisenberg, who made his name spouting Aaron Sorkin's sharp dialogue as Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, brilliantly performs the dual roles - one infuriatingly meek and the other irritatingly arrogant. He's bolstered by the luminous Wasikowska, along with an eclectic mix of British comedic talent including Chris O'Dowd, Tim Key and Chris Morris.
Just don't expect a lot of laughs. It's a tad too patterned, too arch; a film you'll admire with detachment rather than love with investment. But in Ayoade, we have a burgeoning British talent who has moved on from Submarine to develop a genuinely distinctive style. I eagerly await whatever nightmarish world he constructs next.
The Double will be released in cinemas nationwide from 4 April.