Published Jul 15, 2016As far as dystopian sci-fi concepts go, Equals offers a pretty standard setup: a completely aseptic, touchscreen-enabled, performance-driven vision of the near future in which humans don't feel emotions. In fact, any twinge of emotion is not merely frowned upon or outlawed, but downright pathologized.
But lo-fi love specialist Drake Doremus (Like Crazy, Breathe In) sadly disappoints with this clichéd, dramatically inert Young Adult tale of star-crossed lovers trapped in a post-apocalyptic world of forbidden emotion. Set in a tech-hungry, highly regimented society of clinical blues and greys called The Collective, Silas (Nicholas Hoult) and Nia (Kristen Stewart) are co-workers at a company full of gorgeous, emotionally stilted cogs in the machine who wear white clothes, sleep in ergonomic cubicles and steer clear of all sex, empathy and humour.
Those like Silas, who do are diagnosed with stage-one SOS ("Switched On Syndrome," meaning they're not dead inside), are medicated and closely monitored, effectively becoming pariahs until they're bullied into suicide. Delving into the burgeoning romance between tentative Silas and the suppressed Nia as they experience a full-blown emotional thawing is a premise that could have shown, er, promise, but the execution sadly lacks the imagination or directorial chutzpah needed to sustain our attention over Equals' totally uncalled for 100-minute runtime.
Roping K-Stew into this only partially sketched out Romeo and Juliet replica might have helped it rise above its sterile premise, but she's given very little to do here besides the obligatory lip quivering, robust whispering and forbidden gazing. Same goes for Hoult, whose wide-eyed, rapidly deteriorating SOS patient is mostly provided lots of contemplative shower time, sending a grand total of zero sparks flying. You might argue that's precisely the point, in a world of repressed feelings where people aren't provided with any roadmaps to understand their nascent, age-old desires, but the momentum-deprived Equals only hints at what could have been a fascinating allegory about suppressing one's true nature.
As with Sascha Ring (Apparat) and Dustin O'Halloran's low-key, ambient score, the über-sleek but ultimately derivative production design and the Hoult-Stewart cycles of swooning and heartache, the whole thing just never achieves lift-off.
(Search Engine Films)