The 1970s gave rise to a spate of films set in post-apocalyptic totalitarian states, stories in which love is banned and procreation is punish-worthy. The genre has never really disappeared, and modern filmmakers have been finding ever more creative ways of reacting against overpopulation and under-employment, and a populace that medicine is increasingly inventive in keeping alive. Equals takes its inspiration from the likes of THX 1138, ZPG and Logan’s Run and plays it refreshingly straight.
Silas (Hoult) lives in the Collective, a society where emotions have been inhibited by a government in fear of reigniting the Great War that has devastated 99.6% of the planet, but when he begins to suffer from Switched On Syndrome – the revival of dormant feelings – he notices similar symptoms in his co-worker at Atmos, Nia (Stewart), and the pair begin an illicit, doomed relationship.
Painfully slow but utterly absorbing, Drake Doremus’ story (with a screenplay from Moon’s Nathan Parker) paints an entirely believable portrait of a society that has suppressed all sensitivity to the point at which it resembles nothing so much as an elaborate beehive, with colourless, impassive drones working towards a common goal: the eventual evacuation of Earth. Filmed in Japan and Singapore, the settings are beautiful and alien, a strikingly impersonal landscape that suits Doremus’ languid, liquid camerawork perfectly. He makes it easy to accept a world where love and grief – and even simple interest – have been bred out of people; the early scene of the suicide is horribly credible.
We have of course been here before, many times. What makes Equals – the state to which those whose emotions have got the better of them return, once a cure for SOS has been found – worth watching is the chemistry between Hoult and Stewart, and the realistic, child-like way that Silas and Nia discover one another. Silas’ initial awakening is acted and directed with a subtlety and simplicity, Hoult and Stewart’s slightly awkward, uncomfortable gait at odds with the rest of the cast, singling them out immediately as different. When the pair commence their illegitimate affiliation, they are at first uncomfortable with touching one another; the stroke of fingers across the back of a hand takes on a wealth of meaning that the film earns by immersing us in the lovers’ universe rather than plunging us into the plot. It’s a very sensually, cautiously illustrated affair.
The final third is faster, more narrative heavy and more conventional – although often with unnerving tangents and interruptions, and very much following the trajectory of Romeo and Juliet. If you’ve made it this far you’ll be rooting for the young couple to overcome the inevitable tragedy, and the very last scene will break your heart. Predictable, but compelling.
Special Features: Featurette / Trailers
EQUALS / CERT: 12 / DIRECTOR: DRAKE DOREMUS / SCREENPLAY: DRAKE DOREMUS, NATHAN PARKER / STARRING: NICHOLAS HOULT, KRISTEN STEWART, JACKI WEAVER, GUY PEARCE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW