HTS Overall Score:
The parallels between George Orwell’s “1984” and the film “Equals” is pretty much undeniable. No matter how you look at it the comparisons are going to be made. We have a dystopian society intent on molding people into a singular mold. The crushing weight of rewritten history and the hopelessness of seeing that there is nothing that you can do about it. Then of course there is the standard couple who defies the odds and makes a drastic effort to escape from the cycle and give the proverbial middle finger to those in control. It’s all there, and it’s all been done before. Which is where “Equals” stumbles and falters. We’ve seen this before and we’ve seen the questions it raises, but unfortunately “Equals” just goes about the motions and really doesn’t raise any new questions, or offer any new solutions that hasn’t been seen a billion times in the past. In fact the whole thing feels about as monotonous and emotionless as the society that they are living within. There are brief flickers of real emotion, but they don’t seem to be able to grasp onto the viewer and impart that intensity to them.
I’d like to say that the film describes the plot perfectly, but instead we have a very unique method of filling in all the backstory. Instead of telling us that mankind nearly extinguished itself some time ago (usually a staple in these dystopian futures) they show us little blurbs and text messages regarding past history. The lessons they’ve supposedly learned come through as little bits of information from the Atmos Corporation’s nonfiction department and the illustrations that are made there. We are privy to the main character, Silas (Nicholas Hoult) getting diagnosed with a terminal disease called SOS, or “switched on syndrome”. It seems that humanity figured out that the only way to keep mankind from killing themselves was to create a medical procedure wherein everyone has their emotional capabilities blocked by the time they are born. In certain cases those inhibitors are worn down and a “condition” is formed wherein the person starts to feel again. Stage one can be slowed down by emotional inhibitors, but after time they become ineffective and the sufferer is forced into a rehabilitation center where they are given the option of heavy duty electric therapy and eventual suicide or euthanasia.
This seems to be the norm for the people living in this “perfect” society, but the people who suffer from SOS see it a little bit differently. Interestingly enough they believe that SOS is an actual disease and aren’t aware of the inhibitors at birth, negating their natural emotional state. History has been rewritten by the elite and their only knowledge is what propaganda is distributed throughout by the ruling class. After Silas is diagnosed with his condition he comes in contact with Nia (Kristen Stewart), who has the same condition but is a “hider”. A person who just hides their condition and doesn’t take any medication for it. Soon sparks start to fly and the couple’s compromised emotional state allows a romantic bond to form. A bond that is STRICTLY forbidden at the highest level. A bond that will force them to consider fleeing the city the mythical peninsula, where supposedly the rejected SOS survivors have gone off to.
“Equals” seems to be a perfect match for Kristen Stewart. It allows her to be completely emotionless and stale without seeming out of place. Something she is well skilled for as it is her normal appearance and acting style in every film she’s ever been in (she ascribes to the Steven Seagal method of acting where you have one single expression for every emotion you’re feeling). While the premise of the movie reminded me of “Equilibrium” without guns and martial arts, it ends up feeling a lot more like a romantic “1984” (which it is in essence). Although I have to say that the intensity and poignancy of George Orwell’s fateful book is gone. The majority of the movie we’re either watching Silas cope in public with his new condition, and the brief moments of emotional clarity are spent confined within a bathroom stall where he and Nia meet up.
While the film is definitely derivative and plodding, there are some very unique aspects of the film that caught my attention. The emphasis of FEELING being a disease was something rather inventive and new. It was interesting watching Silas cope with his new emotions as one would cope with their body failing after being diagnosed with cancer. Every flicker of emotion or new bought of sadness would bring a frustration to his face as he struggled to compensate for something that his body wasn’t used to. The corollary between terminal illness and emotion was the highlight of the story and one that came across rather cleverly. I also loved how all the information and backstory about humanity’s struggle is disseminated by little articles and projects being worked on in their daily life. There is no narrator overlaying the story with a background, and now struggle to find the “truth”. Instead we’re filled in with what we need to know and let the two main characters make their own decisions and conclusions based off their own experience.
Rated PG-13 for thematic content, sensuality, partial nudity and disturbing images
It’s hard to fully analyze “Equals” on a purely objective basis being that the film is stylistically graded and color timed to within an inch of its life. Fine detail is merely adequate, as there are some strange anomalies that rung throughout, mainly heavy banding in anything showing a background or up close focus, and colors that smear and obscure detail many times. There is still plenty to be scene, but the smearyness and copious banding keep it from becoming extremely sharp. Colors are very VERY heavily graded towards slate blue and purple, with grey and white tones being blended in for a very sterile look to compliment the genre. Skin tones look a bit pale and when under any darkness whatsoever tend to look purplish in hue. Black levels show low level noise along with decent shadow replication. Which sometimes is accompanied by more banding and some crush. It’s a decent picture, but it’s hard to actually fault the encode for some of the shortcomings due to the very obvious stylistic choices used in the making of the movie.
The audio track is a bit better, with a fairly laid back and simple encode. Much of the film is what one would quantify as a drama, so dialog replication and mild ambient noises are the focus of the mix. Vocals are clear and intelligible, and the accompanying melodic beeps and boops of the mild mannered society that Silas and Nia live in. The simple and minimalistic score flows naturally and uses much of the actual surround activity in its use, but overall the track is fairly restrained, including some low level use of the LFE channel as support for a few bumps and crashes. It’s not a wild or exciting track, but it is a technically sound one, with just a limitation on the mix based up the genre it it’s in.
• Audio Commentary with Director Drake Doremus, Cinematographer John Guleserian and Editor Jonathan Alberts
• Switched On
• The Collective
“Equals” is a bit bland and unimaginative, taking off pieces of other dystopian works such as “1984” and “Equlibrium”, but still works as a fairly solid film. The shortcomings are really because of the derivativeness more than anything. We’ve seen it all before in several different settings, and the big pull of the dystopian settings is the new pathways that are formed in discussion and realization of humanity. Here is feels like nothing but a retread of the same path and we all know the answers without thinking of anything new, or making it decidedly different. The Blu-ray itself is capable enough with ok video and very solid audio, but coupled with the low extras on the disc I would have to say that “Equals” is relegated to a rental if you’re a fan of the bleak future of a “1984” style film.
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult, Vernetta Lopez
Directed by: Drake Doremus
Written by: Drake Doremus, Nathan Parker
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1
Runtime: 101 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: September 6th, 2016
Buy Equals On Blu-ray at Amazon
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