VOD film review: Equals
James R | On 28, Sep 2016
Director: Drake Doremus
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult
Watch Equals online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
15 minutes into Drake Doremus’ sci-fi, Equals, a body falls from the sky and hits the ground outside an office. If you saw that happen, you’d be shocked, scared, sad, perhaps morbidly intrigued. The people looking on in this futuristic society, though, are blank, calm and undisturbed. Why? Because this is a world where feelings have been outlawed and scientifically eliminated.
It’s not an easy thing to do, play emotionless. But that’s the challenge facing Silas and Nia, two workers in the high-tech HQ of this new world, as they find themselves beginning to feel things – something that the authorities dub “Switched-On Sydrome”. And so they find themselves having to hide it to fit in. People with emotions pretending not to have emotions playing people with emotions pretending not to have emotions? It’s a tough gig, and Equals finds itself the perfect lead couple in Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart.
Hoult, whose twitching features are capable of moving between serene and troubled at a moment’s notice, is excellent as Silas, struggling to concentrate on his job as an illustrator of historical propaganda that depicts old-fashioned humans with their hormones as dangerous degenerates. He’s more than matched by Kristen Stewart, who was practically born to play this role. The hugely underrated Stewart is a master of barely-contained emotions, from Twilight’s Bella to her superb turn as a detached guard in Camp X-Ray. Here, her quivering lip, haunted eyes and low-pitched voice are put to excellent use. Together, Hoult and Stewart make a brilliant couple and they carry much of the film’s weight.
Despite its leads’ chemistry, though, Equals struggles to blossom into a full-blooded romance. That’s not because their story isn’t convincing: Doremus, whose speciality lies in low-key dramas with raw sincerity, such as Like Crazy and Breathing, turns out to be a dab-hand at sci-fi: he builds his world with gorgeous detail, from the clean-cut white sleeping pods that our humans inhabit to the restrictive, uniform costumes. Its Apple-like aesthetic might be a tad derivative, but the special effects are used sparingly, and effectively, to bring the universe to life, keeping the focus on the human core of the tale.
The story, rather, is where the drama feels ironically stifled, as the script takes a while to find its groove, spending so much time tip-toeing up to its climax that the moving momentum of the final act almost misses its impact. Compared to the bold editing of Like Crazy, Equals’ structure and pace lacks the immediacy of its characters’ forbidden passion. The director has lost none of his knack for empathy, though, which, combined with its top-notch cast (including an earnest Guy Pearce), elevates this largely familiar story above the sea of similar young adult dystopian flicks. For those with patience, there’s a throbbing love story here that’s worth seeking out, no matter how emotionless you are.
Equals is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.