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Equals
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by Jaycie

"At last, a love story that isn't better than Twilight."
2 stars

All hope that the young adult dystopia genre could be saved from itself was lost two years ago with the release of The Giver. Director Philip Noyce, whose filmography includes two Tom Clancy adaptations, twisted the award-winning mainstay of elementary school English classes into Special Snowflake Saves the World Movie #392B. Contrary to early reports, Equals does not give the same treatment to George Orwell's opus 1984. But if not for those early reports, it has no reason to be mentioned in the same paragraph as 1984.

If you know anything about Equals already, it's probably because someone has made a crack about how perfect it is for Kristen Stewart to play an emotionless drone on purpose. I can't tell if that casting decision was based on qualification or irony, but that's the only question with which the movie will leave you. Director Drake Doremus is the king of stopping audiences from getting invested; his previous feature, Like Crazy, was nothing but emotion and still inspired only yawns. His mumblecore style and the dystopian setting go together the way . . . well, the way Kristen Stewart and emotions go together.

Silas (Nicholas Hoult) is one of seemingly thousands of automatons on the receiving end of constant PSAs about how feelings are bad because they once caused . . . something. Any display of emotion is called "Switched On Syndrome" (GET IT?!), an appropriate name, for Silas himself begins showing signs of it so abruptly, you'd think someone had flipped a literal switch. That switch comes in the form of Nia (Stewart), who conveys her deeply suppressed passions by parting her lips sometimes. (To be fair, that's also how she does it off-camera.) That's enough for Silas to keep his gaze fixed on the back of her head whenever possible, and before you know it, they're touching lightly and talking about their thoughts like a pair of degenerates. But what will happen to them upon the introduction of a long-awaited cure for SOS, potentially destroying the hidden realm of love and honesty in which they find themselves? Well, by the time that moment comes, you'll be feeling nothing, too. There is an admittedly interesting twist in the third act, but you need to be awake for it.

If there's any literary parallel to be drawn, your best choice is probably the Ayn Rand novella Anthem, in which individuality, not emotion, is the target of the faceless authorities. But while Equals shows us that individuality is the true enemy of "the Collective," it tells us that it's emotion. This allows screenwriter Nathan Parker to outdo La Rand herself at beating the audience over the head. He has written less of a script and more of the asinine LiveJournal of an emo ninth-grader. "NOBODY understands my feelings about the world! Sometimes I think society just wants to OUTLAW feelings! But what would that do to LOVE?"

That said, these people know far too much about how they're supposed to physically and verbally express the emotions they're just starting to learn. Here, Parker might have been better off copying Rand directly: In the universe of Anthem, nobody is meant to know the word "I," which makes developing the story much more of a challenge. Are they trying to tell us that, despite the efforts of law and medicine (apparently advanced enough to detect emotion from a blood sample), nothing can suppress the human soul? I'm pretty sure we've heard that before from, oh, every dystopian movie ever made ever.

Luckily, Doremus is the perfect director for a script packed with all this duh. Most everything is as sterile, white and quiet as an insane asylum, except when we're supposed to react to something and we're treated to heavy breathing and neon. The soundtrack consists only of sloooooooooow ambient music straight off a natural sleep CD, occasionally rising to hideous discordant static when a character feels too much. Every character is styled like a meth withdrawal sufferer (Stewart) or a member of the Hitler Youth (Hoult) and, when asked to act instead of imitating text-to-speech software, do little more than look and sound mildly worried. Bella and Edward themselves would call these people dull.

I was prepared to go on a blistering rant about the arrogance it takes to turn the world's ur-example of dystopia into 100 minutes of Millennial validation. Equals wasn't even interesting enough for that.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=29596&reviewer=432
originally posted: 08/13/16 11:56:47
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Venice Film Festival For more in the 2015 Venice Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

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USA
  01-Jul-2016
  DVD: 06-Sep-2016

UK
  N/A

Australia
  01-Jul-2016
  DVD: 06-Sep-2016


Directed by
  Drake Doremus

Written by
  Nathan Parker

Cast
  Kristen Stewart
  Nicholas Hoult
  Bel Powley
  Guy Pearce
  Jacki Weaver
  Claudia Kim



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