From all appearances that the trailers afford you for Drake Doremus’s new film Equals, the film looks expressly like a science fiction film. We see a Utopian future with people at big touch screens and matching white uniforms, like some sort of George Orwell inspired story. I can tell you now that I have seen the film and this is not a science fiction story, merely a story of two characters exploring something forbidden against the backdrop of a futuristic world. This element of sci-fi is something that helps fuel the basis of the plot only and beyond that and its visuals isn’t important to the final outcome of the film. I will say that given that descriptor, it may borrow a little from the sci-fi films that came before it but not enough to do more than just be reminiscent.
With Equals, Doremus ascends a new rung of the ladder but still within the realm of romance and human connections which is a common thread through all six of his feature films. He really started turning heads in 2011 with his young love story Like Crazy, which starred the late Anton Yelchin alongside his co-lead Felicity Jones and had a supporting role from now Academy Award “it girl” Jennifer Lawrence. The critics lauded the film, as it made a few lists that year but his next film Breathe In would almost go unnoticed, getting very middling reviews. With Equals, although still in the same area Doremus likes to dabble in, we get a different look at this storyteller.
The film is about Silas, played by Nicholas Hoult, who lives in a clean and sanitary Utopian society called The Collective, where cancers and other sicknesses that have plagued the world for generations have been eradicated but human emotion has also been eliminated as well. Silas lives his day to day life in a regimented schedule and works as an illustrator at a scientific journal known as Atmos. Working closely with his team, the common worry, for lack of a better term, is a new threat called S.O.S., which translates to Switched On Syndrome. This causes an awakening of the emotions that, in its third stage, propels the infected to commit suicide.
Diagnosed with the disease quickly into the film, Silas begins to fixate on one of his co-workers, Nia (Kristen Stewart). Slowly, Silas begins to deduce that Nia is also infected with the ailment but is keeping it more hidden than he had. Once Silas finally confronts her on her condition, both he and Nia give in to their newly found emotions and start a relationship behind the closed doors of the rest of The Collective society. When a new “cure” is presented to the citizens of The Collective, the days seem to be numbered for this new and forbidden couple and the two must make the ultimate decision whether to run or end it.
Equals poses some really interesting dynamics in a mashing of the science fiction and romance genre. Very much at its base, it is a Shakespearean romantic tragedy like Romeo and Juliet, but instead of being from two battling families, our characters find themselves alone against society. Even more intriguing, that society would find what they do behind closed doors grotesque and disturbing, the polar opposite to how love and affection should be taken. Playing with almost an angle played in the Kurt Wimmer film Equilibrium, we see a world where the overwhelming feeling of love is at first regarded as dangerous and something to be fear which, after time, degenerates into a sort of repulsion.
Drake Doremus nails the look of this film, which is a visual feast from the get go. The beautiful use of lighting and the clean and sterile backdrop of this society immerse you into the atmosphere immediately. This being the fourth collaboration with Doremus, cinematographer John Guleserian brings a pristine look to the film that does most of the speaking for this film, as there isn’t a lot of dialogue to be had in this one. Guleserian also pulls off a few lens flares that J.J. Abrams might well learn something from. I’m not tearing down the Star Wars: The Force Awakens director but I’m saying that it works far better in this one.
The acting can come off as a bit dull at times but it really is a piece of the story for them to be so somber. Hoult gives slight nods to the increasing intensity of his sickness but the, at first, unknown condition of Kristen Stewart’s character is so well played that it’s almost a sigh of relief when the emotions flood in and are fully realized. Stewart is fast approaching a rebirth in North American film and an Oscar nomination in a lot of the interesting film choices she is making. Soon all those paycheque Twilight films will seem like a well-paying but terrible dream. You can almost bank on that. Heck, she already won a Caesar Award and if you look at the history on that you will see that she has already broken barriers.
Equals will not be a film that will pull in the masses, enrapture all of those former tweens who loved K-Stew’s Bella or even make a real dent box office wise. Instead, it is a beautiful story of two listless drifting souls among thousands that have found an anomaly in time together and to give in to their baser desires. Drake Doremus has made a considerable mark in my mind as a director of note and one that I’ll be paying attention to next time out. I won’t let another “Breathe In” flow by me this time. I give Equals a three and a half out of five.