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TIFF 2015 Review: Equals

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equals_kristin-stewart

Critics at Venice may have been mixed on the newest film by director Drake Doremus, but if the viewers in Toronto are any indication, then this art house futuristic affair has a chance at finding a niche audience appreciative of its romantic core.

Equals opens on a sleeping Silas (Nicholaus Hoult). His minimalistic room changes form as he awakes, showers, dresses, and heads to work as an illustrator. He eats prepared meals, sees the same people each day and interacts with them in the same way. That is to say that everyone within the collective acts in the same way – expected and without emotions clouding their actions. In this futuristic world, humans have had these genes that control feeling, sensation, and impulses suppressed for the sake of effeciency.

Then one day Silas starts to actually experience life – he can taste, and feel, and little by little emotions start to become a part of his consciousness. He is suffering from Stage 1 SOS (Switched On Syndrome), a clinical disease diagnosed by the collective that escalates and ends with your eventual transfer to the “DEN”. Needless to say no one returns from this journey.

As Silas starts to cope with his newfound feelings, he notices a girl in his work place, Nia (Kristen Stewart), who exhibits small imperceptible movements of emotion. Imperceptible to all but him. They form a connection and soon after a ‘coupling’ – something that is distinctly forbidden.

There enters the Romeo and Juliette similarities, star crossed lovers, forbidden by those around them, who need to find a way to be together. This isn’t Doremus’ first foray into this storyline. In fact, his 2011 film Like Crazy also premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and explored similar ideas, just in a present day, realistic setting. But the director has definitely set himself a genre with which he is comfortable, even as the background changes. He just needs to be careful not to paint himself into a corner.

He is a master at capturing what seems to be natural intimacy and chemistry between his two leads. The scenes within the film’s second act where Hoult and Stewart really get to improvise their burgeoning relationship work well to deliver emotional impact. However, the first act is also wrought with too many close ups (Her lip moved! She can feel! We get it!) and colour laden silhouettes. By trying to highlight the intricacies of emotional expression, Doremus mayshut out a portion of his audience from experiencing the bigger picture.

Hoult and Stewart though play their roles exceptionally well. The tiny details that make up our body language are an important part of their characters’ expression, as they are unable to overtly show their feelings. They share passion and chemistry on screen and in those moments where it is just them, they seem to have an ease with one another that comes with love. It makes you invested in them, which is essential to the third act working at all. Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver also make appearances in the film, but are largely under-utilized.

Continuing to add atmosphere to the film is the soundtrack composed by Dustin O’Halloran and electronic artist Apparat. The music can be overwhelming at times, but is always superimposed on a scene where their emotions are overwhelming the characters too, giving the audience a heightened sensation. It should be noted, that O’Halloran and Apparat just won the Soundtrack Stars award at the Venice Film Festival for this work.

For all of its simplistic romantic natures and flaws, overall Equals worked for me. Though you could see the ending coming a mile away, it was still heartbreaking to watch. The world of the collective was still an interesting landscape by the end. Director Doremus commented that Equals really is a metaphor for a long term relationship, in that sometimes when you’ve been in it for a long time you forget why you’re there in the first place. I hope that audiences won’t say the same about the film itself.

3-out-of-5

You can find me on Twitter.

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