Today: April 24, 2024

Equals

It seems odd that a film starring former flavour of the month Kristen Stewart should be making its debut on the home formats. But if Equals proves anything it is that Stewart was, and is, a very dependable actress. A teeny franchise, albeit a hugely successful one, cannot take away from that. So while the Twilight fans may have deserted her Stewart’s acting talents haven’t. Equals, off the back of the likes of The Clouds Of Sils Maria and Camp X-Ray, demonstrates that when not dealing in vampires, but often emotionally charged romance, Stewart is a hugely engaging and watchable talent.

In a dystopian future all forms of disease have been erased. There is no conflict and society operates in perfect harmony. At least on the surface. Because in this world emotions are considered an illness. If you begin to show signs of SOS (Switched On Syndrome) there are pills but eventually you will be encouraged to kill yourself. When he witnesses a suicide illustrator Silas (Nicholas Hoult) begins to experience emotions. At first these new feelings are liberating. When he suspects his colleague Nia (Stewart) is hiding her SOS he attempts to engage her in an emotional relationship. Despite early resistance the pair soon embark upon a forbidden love, aware that it could easily lead to their downfall.

Director Drake Doremus is a filmmaker who is clearly a realist of romance. He’s not interested in ‘they lived happily ever after’ as made abundantly clear in Like Crazy. Equals, while focussing firmly on romance, never feels like it is going to sweep you away. That is in spite of the glaring Romeo & Juliet undertones. There is a sense of inevitability about the film, an idea that no matter how happy Nia and Silas might be at various points in the story they’re destined for a cruel ending.

Drake creates a sense of cold, cut-off observations from the outset. The colour pallet all ice-cold blues, as if Michael Mann were shooting one of his turquoise soaked thrillers while trying to write an emotionally stunted poem. Once Nia and Silas’ love begins to burgeon so Drake not too subtly smashes through the blue hew to bring an orange, sunset colouring to the film. It certainly makes a point but it feels a little over-egged, as if Drake didn’t have quite enough faith in the script and acting performances to make the point for him.

Drake’s colour pallet musing highlight a bigger issue, that Equals, at times, drags. The plot seems to circle itself, with first Nia and then Sils both calling it off and on again. But the biggest issue is that throughout Equals feels lacking in emotion. It feels cold, of course this is part of the world but the point of the narrative is to explore, understand and potentially celebrate the power of love, even if it can be cruel sometimes. But instead it is as if the whole affair has been ‘cured’ of SOS. So while it keeps you interested it doesn’t always keep you emotionally invested.

Stewart is of course well versed in forbidden love but here, rather than pouting and heavy breathing she injects Nia with a delicacy. Her performance is powerfully painful as she first comes to terms with her emotions before embracing them. Hoult brings an interesting dryness to Silas before he comes down with love. Then his boyish charm and anxiety is infectious, sweeping you up in the trauma of the whole affair.

Equals represents a brilliant concept that never quite adds up to the sum of its parts.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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