Twins being mistaken for one another has provided a rich vein of narrative for storytellers since the dawn of time. Cinema has been particularly hungry to reap the spoils of this simple plot conceit, resulting in everything from the breezy family comedy of The Parent Trap to the chilling gynaecological horror of Dead Ringers. It’s surprising that it took so long for someone with dollar signs for eyes to take the tried-and-true format and combine it with Christmas, the most movie-amenable season.
With The Princess Switch, Netflix has done this. But at some point in the scriptwriting and production process, they fucked up big time. They accidentally made a horror movie. The Princess Switch is a horror movie.
Let’s start with the plot. It’s simple enough: Stacy DeNovo (played by Disney alum Vanessa Hudgens) runs a successful pastry shop in Chicago with her best friend, divorcé and single dad Kevin. She’s struggling with a recent breakup, a stress which is compounded when she learns that Kevin has entered their humble little shop in a world-renowned Christmas pastry competition in the fictional European kingdom of Belgravia. On the recommendation of a strange and possibly magical old man, she decides to do it.
Upon arriving in this cloistered, snowy kingdom – one which probably has a violent 20th century history we are not privy to, almost certainly involving the Nazis – Stacy learns two things. Firstly, a royal wedding is happening, between the crown prince Edward and Margaret Delacourt, Duchess of ‘Montenaro’ (another fictional country). Secondly, Stacy is an exact clone of Duchess Margaret, also played by Vanessa Hudgens.
Strangely, rather than just letting that just be a coincidence, the script tries to spin a weird explanation for the twin thing involving degenerated royal bloodlines, with a cousin of the family rumoured to have married and had children in the United States. This proposed circumstance actually makes the twin situation stranger if anything. That’s not how genetics works.
Honestly, they should have left it a mystery. Because the aforementioned magical old man also has a clone in Belgravia. Or maybe it’s the same guy, which wouldn’t make sense, because they have different accents. Who is this mysterious imp? What are his motivations, and are they benevolent? I have reason to believe they are not; he seeks to sow discord. My girlfriend said he was ‘Santa’ and refused to explain her maddening theory any further.
Again, can we ponder for a moment this so-called Kingdom of Belgravia? Their royal insignia, worn by many characters in the film, looks more like a a cult symbol than anything. What kind of sick rituals go down in this palace which are unrevealed by The Princess Switch? I could not even begin to imagine.
Of course, as the viewer, you’re expecting the ‘switch’ of the title to happen pretty promptly. And it does. But considering the switch is the point of the entire movie, not much thought went into the reasoning behind it. Turns out that Margaret Delacourt is actually haunted by the trappings of royalty and doesn’t even like her husband-to-be, so she wants to live life as a “normal girl” for a few days before her wedding. Like any good horror movie, which The Princess Switch is, it delves deeply into the delusions of an insane mind. She says “normal girl” so many times in this film that it goes far beyond uncanny into the realm of the disturbed.
You can see where this goes. While occupying each other’s roles, the pair create an awkward situation: Stacy falls in love with the Prince Edward, who in turn falls in love with her no-nonsense Chicago attitude; and Margaret falls in love with Kevin for reasons which are never fully justified apart from him looking good with his shirt off. Which is fine! That’s totally okay.
This is where the psychological aspect of this film drifts into abject horror for me. I don’t mean to spoil anything for Christmas movie enthusiasts, so if you’re absolutely set on watching this for yourself, please close the tab now. As you might expect, it all works out: the jig is up after Stacy and Kevin win the Belgravian cooking contest, but after a brief moment of tension involving the fooled parties everything is okay. Stacy and Price Andrew get together, and so too do Margaret and Kevin. Everyone lives happily ever after, or so we assume.
But. Kevin, who has presumably been friends with Stacy for a long time, falls in love with her – or someone he believes is her – over the space of a couple of days. Then, when it is revealed that he was deceived (in a highly sociopathic way) he sort of just shrugs and moves on, letting his dear friend Stacy move to a strange European kingdom while he starts dating her identical clone as if nothing ever happened. Would this not drive him completely insane? He is dating a woman who looks exactly like his best friend but is not her. Meanwhile, his friend – and business partner – now lives in some snow kingdom. His entire life has been exposed as a lie.
And I haven’t even mentioned the co-conspirator in this criminal unwinding of Kevin’s mind: his daughter Olivia. The precocious kid, who is the product of Kevin’s failed marriage to a woman who apparently “left” the pair, becomes aware of the switching situation early in the film and conspires to keep it secret, because she wants a new mum. This little puppetmaster engineers the ultimate switch, despite the fact her actual mother is clearly alive and well. A divorce doesn’t mean she’s dead! What poisonous mistruths has Kevin been whispering to Olivia about her mother?
Here’s a theory for you to chew on, happy for your feedback if you have any. I think it’s actually far more likely that Stacy and Margaret are in fact two aspects of the one fractured mind, like in Fight Club. No, I won’t explain this theory any further, and I remind you the plot is frightening enough as it is. Just marinate on that for a little while.
The Princess Switch is available on Netflix.Image: Netflix