I can think of very few films that have turned out as perfectly cast as this one as Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult take us on this sci-fi romance film where emotions are a foreign and frightening element to its characters. And this is not meant to be seen as a mock of their acting abilities (okay, maybe a little) but an indication of how well they fit the vision of the film and make the world all the more believable.
Equals is set in a future world where the powers that be (called the Collective) seem to have learnt that the most powerful way of ensuring a thriving and productive society is to remove their emotions. Which makes sense after all as it’s our emotions that lend us to desires of greed and want and whoch causes us to get angry and eventually leads toward revolt. They do this though by characterizing emotion as a sickness (titled S.O.S) which could potentially lead to death and prescribes medication to the general population to suppress their feelings. It’s a powerful political statement hidden in the subtext of the film and not one which the film does a huge job of exploring, but still creates a captivating backdrop on which our lead characters exist.
Stewart and Hoult play two co-workers, Nia and Silas who are both struggling with their hidden emotions who become drawn and attracted to each other. Silas has made his emotions apparent and is set as an outcast through wearing a different colour uniform to indicate his struggle with the illness, whereas Nia is in hiding about her condition. Together though they try to deal with these strange feelings they have towards each other, not always knowing how and whether they should react to them before giving into them entirely, while still trying to keep it a secret to the rest of society. It’s at this point that they realise that if they are ever going to be allowed to be together, they need to escape from the city to a place free of this societal suppression and so begin to hatch an escape plan together with a support group of individuals who have also been hiding their struggles with emotion from the rest of society.
The script by Nathan Parker is a strong one and although the film is light on dialogue at moments, it still offers a lot of opportunity for its characters to develop and for the harsh realities of their world and fate to be introduced to the audience. The script is also not completely predictable, which is fresh in romantic movies of this ilk. The lack of dialogue is also intentional in explaining a world where people do not easily express themselves and so a lot is left to the director Drake Doremus to make the story all come together.
And for the most part he does his job, though he makes a lot of strange directorial decisions which detract from the immersion of the film. For a start, there are many moments in the film where the camera is focused on either Sirus or Nia as they are talking to each other and the camera is shaking. Now for a film where you need to tell what a character is feeling rather than focusing on what they are saying this is completely off-putting and it really makes you wonder what the director was thinking, especially when some of the more action-packed moments show that they had a tri-pod on set after all and the camera can be perfectly still. The other is through some strange camera angles or blurred shots which don’t really say anything to the audience. Less of a distraction than the shaky camera work, but still something which I found difficult to get used to.
However, what Doremus does do well is build a believable world, especially with the help of cinematographer John Guleserian in making the world feel devoid of emotion. This is done through everything appearing in the same colours and a very muted, white feel to them, but largely in the way that everything appears calm and still – not just the actors, but the set. Large scenic shots that show little wind or movement and many quiet moments where the camera does the work when the actor are silent. They were trying to create a future world where emotions seem foreign and stylistically, they succeeded. The score by Sascha Ring and Dustin O’Halloran also plays its part, with atmospheric sounds occasionally breaking the silence to build some tension, but not over-power the film in any way.
However, it’s this part of the film that serves as its most artistic triumph and also its biggest drawback. The director has done such a good job at portraying a world without emotion, that even at moments when the film should be tense, you don’t really feel it. It’s a film that offer so much premise, but removes you from feeling drawn to its characters or cause because it has deliberately removed emotion from the world they’ve created. There are moments when you do feel for the protagonists, but not as much as you should and although it is all by design, I feel they may lose the audience as a result.
As earlier mentioned, the leads are well cast and Stewart and Hoult do a solid job in telling their forbidden love story and never get overly emotional, almost to the point where they have to force it. Again, you could argue that the actors are simply being themselves here, but its convincing enough nonetheless. The remainder of the cast which includes Guy Pearce, Jacki Weaver, Toby Huss and David Selby do a solid enough job without upstaging their leads.
In the end, it is a film that is stylistically done and well portrayed, but is a victim of its own success in becoming quite dull. It’s a film with a lot of layers and reward to it, but whether you will want to sit through it all to get there is entirely its problem… And can someone please get the director a tri-pod.
Last Updated: June 15, 2016