Drake Doremus made Like, Crazy (RIP, Anton Yelchin) and it’s a fantastic film. Now he wants to make a sci-fi love story about a world where emotions are considered a sickness? Count me in.
Equals isn’t a film that every really pushes any new boundaries. It’s a modest film, a subdued film, at times even a little bit of a boring film. And though none of these adjectives seem to paint the picture of a movie someone might like, director Drake Doremus evokes this mood intentionally, and because of it, the film works. In the future, the world has blown itself up or something and humans now live in a walled off city and from birth are genetically altered so as to not emote. This means no love, no touching, no outbursts of anger, no itchy trigger fingers, just a bunch of very subtle, pretty boring people going about their clean, sterile lives. But, because every utopia needs a crack in the forcefield, a disease called SOS has started to flitter about the populace giving people back their, gasp, emotions. Silas (Nicholas Hoult) is another cog in the very peaceful, very well-fed machine who is suddenly marked as a Stage 1 SOS victim, meaning that, well, the kid is starting to have some emotions. Enter Kristen Stewart’s Nia, a “hider” whom seemingly triggers Silas’ disease and we’ve got a very subtle love story. Now again, part of this film revolves around the fact that these are people, for the most part, who’ve never experienced emotion. They are blank slates that move, blandly, through life, doing their assigned tasks, eating beautifully plated meals and sometimes watching rockets land on distant planets. Doremus, with his use of palette and the crazy architecture that his characters exist upon, nails this feeling. This is a world sapped of emotion. And the question that Doremus continues to ask is, “is a life without trouble, worth a life without emotion?” And as the audience watches Silas and Nia not only fall in love for the first time, but literally discover the concept of the emotion, it would be easy to quickly choose Team Emotion, but because Doremus is a good director he manages, with these beautifully timed, beautifully executed, very realistic twists, to challenge our expectations. Yes, emotion is good, but also, life is hard when it’s emotional. Hoult, who is quickly becoming a go-to actor for solid, masculine type roles, and Stewart, who may or may not actually have had her emotions removed for this role, are excellent in this film, both managing to create a sort of dampened chemistry between their characters that grows and builds and gets unruly in the way that newfound love, amongst the emotional barren or not, does. It isn’t the most challenging film (Doremus very adeptly plays with the genre conventions of a flawed utopia) but I don’t believe that it’s intended to be. It is a solid, if not minor, bit of science-fiction buoyed by excellent performance and the type of reserved visual flair we could only wish more movies had these days.
One Last Thought:
I’m so happy in that 2016, directors want to play in the genre sandbox. We’ve done family dramas for a million years. Now we can do family dramas set in underground bunkers with lazer-beam sharks and robotic ninjas. Maybe not better, but fun. Right?