Film Review: Equals (USA, 2016) is pretty damn beautiful… for a dystopia

Hitting DVD and Blu-Ray players this week is the new film Equals, another descendant of the Orwellian dystopia; one that doesn’t necessarily add to the sci-fi subgenre, but also one that doesn’t take anything away from it.

Set in a post apocalyptic society, the film tracks the forbidden bond forming between Nia (Kristen Stewart) and Silas (Nicholas Hoult), who share occupation writing and illustrating for the speculative fiction department of a space exploration company.

In Equals, society has progressed to the point where illness no longer exists and human emotions are suppressed at birth. Anyone who develops emotions is diagnosed with S.O.S (switched on syndrome) and travels through five stages of the ‘disease’ before being shipped to ‘The Den’ to continue on in isolation or (with great encouragement from their colleagues) end their life.

The substance behind the plot is often paper-thin with chestnut themes of human expression, the bleakness of totalitarianism and prevailing love. But it’s the execution that gives Equals its edge. The story isn’t told through exposition, the love that develops between the two protagonists instead comes from well-crafted fragments and dream-like moments.

Scenes as simple as brushing hands or an exchange of glances as Silas and Nia pass another in the illuminated hallways of their workplace carry great tension for their subtleness. Director Drake Doremus (Like Crazy) has succeeded in creating a Foucauldian environment where audiences fear the entwined lovers are about to be subjected to something sinister at any time, while even insignificant actions present a threat.

The insecurity of the relationship is something that lingers through the film, but it’s also something that is never compromised. The worst-case-scenario that later develops does not fulfill the tension surrounding the early moments of the film, and the climax passes by with more than a few questions raised. The film does, if anything, maintain its subtleness through the second half by delicately bringing the story back to a resolution.

Equals is a two shade, blue and grey film. It’s a part of that future dystopia family that includes Gattaca, Code 46 and Her, where the rooms are large and empty, often looking like the inside of a space ship. A sort of loneliness arises from the ethereal settings of the film, especially when Silas is exiled beneath the blue lights of his workroom as his SOS progresses.

Doremus has taken a small step away from his previous romance films for something a little sci-fi, which he admits he’s never been too big on. But the transition feels organic, what makes humans feel and return to one another is a theme he carries seamlessly through his oeuvre. Hoult is getting better and better every film and the chemistry with Stewart is well executed.

Kristen Stewart has given a worthy performance as Nia, albeit one perfectly written for her. The former Twilight star appears to have completely overcome the roles she’d taken in her early career; it’s like directors and producers are finally figuring out where her talents lie, forgoing the earlier roles she’d looked uncomfortable or misplaced in.

For a dystopia, Equals is pretty damn beautiful. Shot amongst the intricate cement edifices of Tadoa Ando where the balance of nature and structure reflects in a way the vision set forth by Doremus. While The Den may be a place of hell for anyone with emotions, the on-site location at Sayamaike Museum makes it feel like a place worth the punishment.

Equals is an adventure into the origin of human emotions and it carries it out with a calm, poignant style. The soundtrack often plays harmoniously through scenes and is as soft as the well-delivered dialogue of Guy Pearce, Hoult and Stewart. It’s a film that does things new and old but ultimately escapes the Her knock-off label.


Equals is available on DVD and Blu-Ray on 26th October.


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