VOD REVIEW: Equals Is a Throwback to 70’s Sci-Fi with a Shakespearean Twist

Kristen Stewart's boyish good looks in Equals.
Kristen Stewart’s boyish good looks in Equals.

One of the highlights of Anton Yelchin’s way too short career was the fierce romantic drama Like Crazy. Written and directed by Drake Doremus, this raw portrait of a long-distance relationship went to places films of this nature normally avoid: It imagined romantic love as a destructive force, no matter how good the original intentions were.

Doremus tackles similar themes in Equals, not an immediate follow up to Like Crazy, but a spiritual cousin.

Set in a dystopian society (think Logan’s Run or 70’s sci-fi in general), Equals imagines a future in which humanity must suppress every emotion in order to function. The manifestation of any feelings is treated as a disease (Switched-On Syndrome, or SOS) and in extreme cases, suicide is encouraged. As brutal as it sounds, the societal experiment appears to work, people seem at peace with themselves and one another.

Silas (Nicholas Hoult), one of the drones, begins to suspect he may suffer of SOS when he develops an attraction for a co-worker, Nia (Kristen Stewart). Profoundly distressed by the idea of not been normal, Silas becomes erratic, even under medication.

While much better at covering her tracks than Silas, Nia is not indifferent. Soon they develop a relationship that mixes the thrill of new love, the fear of being discovered and the uneasiness of having no future to look forward to.

Writer/director Doremus gets strong performances out of Hoult and especially Stewart. She doesn’t have to say a word to depict her inner conflict, yet every emotion is patently clear. The filmmaker borrows freely from “Romeo and Juliet”, an approach that pays off in the last third, but makes the rest of the movie feel slow.

Equals may be too subtle for its own good but there are some very good ideas to be found. The dilemma of trading emotional pain for empty comfort is a compelling one, and far more present than a dystopian flick may indicate. Three prairie dogs.

Equals is available on demand and on iTunes.

Author: Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Journalist, film critic, documentary filmmaker, and sometimes nice guy. Member of the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. Like horror flicks, long walks on the beach and candlelight dinners. Allergic to cats.