Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Kristen Stewart in Equals
"A ragbag of cliches that owe a debt to everything from Romeo and Juliet to THX 1138."

If you ever wondered what might happen if hipsters were in charge of a future dystopia then Drake Doremus' derivative Equals has the answer. In the society imagined by him and script writer Nathan Parker, where even The Collective name sounds like the latest range from Urban Outfitter, everyone lives in cool Swedish-style apartments and wears what appears to be stain-resistant white clothing - someone does eventually spill something down themselves but for the most part, our future evolution seems to include finally gaining the upper hand over pasta sauce and soup.

Life is orderly, largely because society has stripped away all those troublesome, chaos-causing emotions, meaning that workplace banter becomes even more banal and after-hours entertainment involves the dubious pleasures of puzzle-solving, showering and sleep. Regular dystopian overlords would, of course, be watching every move their populace make but the hipster brand here seem only concerned that they check in and out of work on time. This is particularly odd, because an increasing number of people are beginning to suffer with Switched On Syndrome - a disorder that, beyond giving anyone watching who hates on-the-nose plot points a headache, leads the sufferer to experience feelings for others. There is no known cure and the disease is terminal, or at least so disruptive that late-stage sufferers are offered a 'pain-free death scenario'.

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Whoever is in charge seems perfectly content to let people come forward on their own if they realise they are starting to feel things, clearly unaware that emotions are likely to cloud that particular judgement. Certainly Nia (Kristen Stewart) has no intention of confessing and has been living with the condition for months. But when her colleague Silas (Nicholas Hault) starts to discover his emotions, she is drawn to him. Strip back Katie Byron and Tino Schaedler's impressive production design and the costumes (about which Abby O’Sullivan and Alana Morshead are currently in dispute) and you're left with a ragbag of cliches that owe a debt to everything from Romeo and Juliet to THX 1138. When you begin to remove the science-fiction trappings, you also realise that, futuristic setting aside, this is Doremus returning to his favourite subject - doomed and/or forbidden romance - which he previously explored in Like Crazy and Breathe In.

Films like this rely on some sort of danger but Nia and Silas seem to be able to spend hours engaging in illicit trysts against a series of beautifully lit backdrops in their work loo or back at his place. A threat to their relationship finally comes when a cure for SOS starts to be rolled out, but as the hipster dystopians don't seem that bothered about checking everyone, this doesn't generate the tension it should. All hail, then Kristen Stewart who is so magnetic in the central role that you stay engaged with the film for her performance long after the plotting has ceased to matter. Doremus continues to show talent behind the camera but he needs to look to the future in terms of stories rather than raking over material from his own past - and that of other, more superior, films.

Reviewed on: 13 Oct 2016
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Equals packshot
A futuristic love story set in a world where emotions have been eradicated but where a genetic glitch means some people can still fall in love.

Director: Drake Doremus

Writer: Nathan Parker

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult, Bel Powley, Guy Pearce, Claudia Kim, Toby Huss, Jacki Weaver, Kate Lyn Sheil, Aurora Perrineau, Rebecca Hazlewood, David Selby, Scott Lawrence, Rizwan Manji, Kai Lennox, Shunsuke Okubo

Year: 2015

Runtime: 101 minutes

Country: US

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If you like this, try:

THX 1138