Written by Drake Doremus & Nathan Parker
Directed by Drake Doremus
In a futuristic utopia, humans live with emotions suppressed and all illness cured. There are no deep relationships and no sexual ones. All reproduction is done through artificial insemination determined by random lottery draws. In this world there is one affliction, Switch on Syndrome, where the afflicted is hit with a rush of emotion. Those with SOS typically end committing suicide of their own accord or at the behest of the government. Silas is an illustrator who works for a propaganda outlet and notices his co-worker Nia is showing subtle signs of SOS. Not long after, Silas begins to experience nightmares and the bubbling up of emotions. These two will embark on a struggle to escape their world and task a risk to see what lies beyond the borders.
Any time I encounter a film about a world of emotionally devoid people I immediately cringe because I have yet to see one where the actors possess the subtle enough skill to make me care about the characters. This also doesn’t feel like a very relevant issue to address with science fiction. What part of our society is this reflecting? Looking at American culture, I don’t see a real suppression of emotion happening, in fact, I see a society driven too much by conjecture and emotional reaction.
About halfway into the film, I realized it was just a twist on the Romeo & Juliet tropes. We have star-crossed lovers fighting against an intolerant world. There’s even a third act farce where the two character believe one has either died or run away. This leads to a near suicide with its twist. It takes too long to get the conclusion I think every audience member sees coming as soon as all the pieces are in place. There’s never a single unexpected moment in the proceedings, just a script that follows a predetermined path.
Equals is also an aesthetically lazy film. The vision of a dystopian utopia is everyone wearing white clothes with slicked back hair and buildings that look like unused Apple storefronts. There is talk of a peninsula where people live outside of this system, but they are only ever glimpsed in one of Silas’ paintings. We’re introduced to a secret support group of SOS sufferers which could be a great moment to world building and introduce some variety, but it’s another wasted opportunity. This is an even bigger travesty because in supporting roles we have Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver, both underused.
Nothing about Equals feels new or an interesting take on an old idea. Doremus knows Romeo & Juliet and 1984 and Her (which is does a poor job of emulating the art direction of). The actors aren’t to blame; they do what they can with what they are given. The failure of this particular film falls on the lack of creativity in Drake Doremus, a filmmaker whom I can’t imagine would inspire excitement in a moviegoer.