By John Corrado
★½ (out of 4)
Although Equals has a mildly intriguing premise, it leaves much of it unexplored in favour of crafting a clichéd emo love story that will have little resonance beyond heartsick teenagers.
The film takes place in a dystopic future society where people are made to be completely devoid of emotions, so that they can work like blank robots doing scientific research. But some of them suffer from Switched On Syndrome (SOS), which means they are starting to feel something, a disorder that is met with public stigma and ultimately the encouragement of suicide.
When Silas (Nicholas Hoult) starts to have newfound emotions, he catches the eye of Nia (Kristen Stewart), a co-worker who is also able to feel but is hiding the condition. The two fall in love, but have to keep their strictly forbidden romance hidden from the watchful eye of officials. Romeo and Juliet, anyone?
Directed by Drake Doremus, who also made the really lovely romantic drama Like Crazy, Equals can’t help but feel like a missed opportunity. Pilfering many of its ideas from better sci-fi sources like The Giver and the work of George Orwell, the film is just never as interesting or compelling as it could have been, with an overly simplistic story that plods along and never really goes anywhere. Yet it unfolds with such an inflated sense of self-importance, from the muted performances to the overly clinical grey and white toned look of the whole thing, that it becomes almost insufferably pretentious to watch. Jacki Weaver and Guy Pearce both do solid work in supporting roles that are actually more interesting than the main story, but they are only in it for a few scenes.
The film could have at least brightened up when the characters start to explore their feelings, but it never does. Watching Equals is somewhat akin to reading sad teenage poetry. You can kind of tell somebody intended it to mean something, but the film fails to deliver any sort of real message, beyond just vaguely asserting the importance of feelings and falling in love. For a film about emotions, Equals is strangely devoid of any that really feel genuine, let alone resonate over to the audience. Heartbroken teenagers would be best to just watch Like Crazy instead, a film that actually packs an emotional wallop.
Equals is now playing in limited release at TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.