Directed by Drake Doremus
Starring Nicholas Hoult, Kristen Stewart, Guy Pearce, Jackie Weaver
Release 3rd October 2016
Recipe for a Y A movie. Post dystopian setting. Faceless dictatorship. A trait or act deemed illegal. A young person rebelling. Tick, tick, tick, tick. Drake Doremus’s Equals has all the ingredients, but it’s not been marketed as such – probably because it’s not based on a well-known series of novels aimed at the young adult market.
It was created by Doremus himself, although the only difference between this and the likes of Divergent and The Hunger Games is that there’s far less in the way of action. The story is all about emotions, the one thing that’s banned in this particular society, known as The Collective, one of the few chunks of land that remain after what’s known historically as The Big War. Emotions are banned and so are relationships. Anybody displaying signs of feelings are diagnosed as suffering from SOS (Switched On Syndrome) and receive medical treatment. Among all the faceless young people in this world is Silas (Nicholas Hoult) who not only detects signs of the “illness” in himself, but notices one of his colleagues, Nia (Kristen Stewart) is experiencing them too. And it draws the two closer together.
So this time it’s a post-dystopian love story but, that aside, there’s the strong sense of having been here before and more than once. Orwell’s 1984 will pop into your mind early on – it’ll only take a few minutes – alongside plenty of other titles. The difference here, though, is that this would have made a good short story – and, therefore, a short film.
Doremus and his crew have given the film a distinctive, washed out look. Everybody wears white or light coloured androgynous clothes, buildings and interiors are pale grey, everybody has short hair and pale complexions. The only time we see a splash of colour is when Silas changes his job to work in horticulture and he’s surrounded by plants. And when he and Nia have fallen love, they view the world through a pale pink filter. And the director, along with cinematographer John Guleserian, goes in for lots of long lingering close-ups, especially of Stewart’s and Hoult’s faces. Appealing enough, but they’re quickly reduced to just repetitive padding.
It’s a portrait of extreme singledom. Nobody smiles, nobody has any friends of any description, even if they are all exquisitely polite to each other. They all live in individual apartments which are straight out of an Ikea catalogue, at lunch time they all eat at individual tables, everybody walks by themselves. A grimly solitary existence so, although emotions and relationships are outlawed, you can understand why it gets to some people and they either develop SOS or get out. By jumping off the top of a building.
If the film is going to succeed at any level – and given how derivative and limited the story is, that’s going to be a low one – we need to buy into Silas and Nia’s love story. And we do, up to a point. Their first moments of physical contact are done with genuine feeling and tenderness, but otherwise you’re kept as distant from them as they should be from each other. Their robot-like and constantly watchful co-workers are also remarkably unobservant. Not only do they fail to cotton on that there’s something between the two, but they never spot that Stewart is having difficulty holding it together right from the start. Those dark circles under her eyes are a dead giveaway.
Equals is a decent enough idea, but Doremus has done his creation a disservice by trying to turn it into something bigger than it actually is. With apologies to Mr Owell – and another of his novels – some films are not more equal than others.
Equals is released on VOD and DVD on Monday, 3 October and is reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 6 September.