by Philip Price
Man, that Nicholas Hoult really likes himself some Romeo & Juliet stories, doesn't he? If you recall, he made a little subversion of the zombie genre back in 2013 that also borrowed from Shakespeare's doomed story of young lovers. While “Warm Bodies” at least had the sense to have a sense of humor about itself “Equals” is not that kind of movie, but instead plays it completely straight allowing it to end up completely boring. From the outset of the film it all feels familiar. One can see where this thing is going from a mile away and I'm not even sure how anyone read Nathan Parker's script and thought it was a good idea to make this movie again. Again you ask? Yeah, do you recall a little 2005 Michael Bay film by the name of “The Island”? Remember how that film was accused of ripping off another movie? Well, I'm sure the makers of the 1979 film, “Parts: The Clonus Horror,” found inspiration from another source (George Lucas?) and there source before that (George Orwell?). This happens all the time. I'm not saying “Equals” has done anything wrong as far as copyright infringement goes, but I am saying it feels like they took out the clone aspect of “The Island,” added in some aspects of “The Giver” and threw in a third act R & J twist and called it a day. Director Drake Doremus made a nice little examination of young love with his breakout hit in 2011, “Like Crazy,” but this utopian set version of that story yields nothing fresh or interesting.
In this futuristic society Doremus and Parker have set up, human emotions have been eradicated and everyone lives in peace. They all wear nicely pressed white suits and live in modern apartment buildings where everything comes out of the wall and is prepared for them beforehand. Everyone has a specific job that contains a workday filled with little interaction before going home to their assigned living quarters and playing virtual Jenga until their eyes cross. It is when a new disease surfaces that everything changes for illustrator Silas (Hoult). This disease, that is called SOS, is explained as having any kind of emotion whatsoever. It has levels of severity marked by stages that essentially seem to determine at what point you should off yourself. Silas goes to the doctor after feeling, well, anything and is diagnosed with SOS. As a result he becomes an outcast and is drawn to his writer co-worker Nia (Kristen Stewart). Turns out Nia is also infected, but has been hiding her condition for over a year. While I actually wondered for a split second if this film wouldn't contain these two pretty people falling in love and fighting to defy the system it was pretty clear that they would and that, in order to survive, they would have to somehow escape together.
There really isn't much more to be said about the film. I could tell you that the production design is nice, that the tone is much starker than something like “The Island,” but similar to last year’s “The Giver” adaptation or even that some of the sound design is interesting as everything that requires some kind of signal is that of a piano key note, but despite that all being true it does little for the overall affect the film had on me. Sure, it was pretty to look at. Sure, it has a nice little supporting cast that features Jacki Weaver and Guy Pearce with smaller contributions from up and comers Bel Powley and Kate Lyn Sheil, but they either add nothing or are under-utilized to the point it would only seem to be promising more than what the film can deliver. Does the film then attempt to make some kind of social commentary? Is there room for giant metaphors that make “Equals” a mirror to our current society where cell phones and other technology have drained the life from us and render emotions moot? Is it saying how wonderful things might be again if we could get back to talking face to face and truly experience one another? Maybe, but what of those things have you not heard before? Even if these were the themes and main ideas behind the film there is no new perspective or fresh ideas used to convey these tired topics. And so, there is only the lead performances left to consider and they don't offer much either despite feeling like they're doing all they can.
For the record, I like both Stewart and Hoult. They have each made a number of interesting films and were they not a part of this production I doubt I would have had any interest in this film at all. In fact, now that I've seen the film I wish I would've seen Hoult's other offering at TIFF this year, “Kill All Your Friends,” which I at least heard was good fun. “Equals,” unfortunately is no fun. Like I said, both of these talented actors do what they can to make the story work. We buy them as a couple. We buy their arc from stilted awkwardness to the emotional development of being head over heels for one another. There is chemistry between the two and some of the scenes in which they first touch one another (that sounds dirtier than it actually is, trust me) are genuinely able to elicit some kind of emotional response, but past this the story is so predictable it's hard to invest in any of it. The film gets points for its two lead performances as well as for the sleek, but unoriginal production design. What is really a shame is that this project didn't even deserve the efforts of those trying to make it work as they would've been better off dedicating their time elsewhere. Given the film was always going to be made though, Doremus could have at least tried a little harder to do something different with his bigger budget. Instead, he plays it safe and creates a run of the mill futuristic film for this day and age. Most will see “Equals” as perfectly fine, inoffensive and probably even adequate compared to most of what they see this year, but for me this was a dull excursion to a familiar future that I never cared to visit again.