No matter what “in the not too distant future” sci-fi movie you are watching, odds are, if it was made at any point in the last decade, everything looks like it evolved from an Apple store and is sleek, sterile and very modern looking. Equals very much exemplifies that, and it is hard to know just how off base the aesthetic of these movies will be. But while other sci-fi movies made in this era may both look and feel very outdated, at the very worst, Equals will only feel that way. Probably. There is a reasonably compelling love story to latch onto, and that kind of stuff tends to stand the test of time a little better than many other things.
Equals is a movie that takes place at some point in the future after the Earth’s inhabitants have nearly bombed themselves out of existence. There are still a couple of inhabitable spots on the planet though. One of which is very primitive, and the other which is very advanced, utopian and completely void of emotion and feeling. Any form of emotion and feeling is classified as a disease known as SOS. When Silas (Nicholas Hoult) and Nia (Kristen Stewart) both discover they have the disease, their feelings and emotion force them into one another’s arms, and that becomes very problematic, given that the society they live in doesn’t look too kindly on folks with feelings.
The movie is incredibly nuanced. Everyone’s performance is incredibly subdued for most of the movie and the idea of a society that has become emotionless so that they can further the goal of the common good subverts almost everything. The audience member kind of sees what it would be like to walk through emotionless days, while they still feel emotion. The idea is great, the only problem is that at small times, it just makes you feel bored and under-stimulated. Granted, that restless feeling does provide an emotional payoff and connection with both Nia and Silas later on in the movie, so it kind of works itself out.
Nicholas Hoult is an actor who is really starting to prove himself as a potentially major talent in years to come. Outside of his work as Beast in the recent X-Men movies, his acting choices have been nothing if not interesting, and his work in Equals provides a bit more of a look into his range and is another encouraging performance from a guy with a lot of promise. Stewart on the other hand is an interesting case. It feels like she can’t seem to shake Twilight off of her back entirely, yet she is consistently delivering solid, if not similar, performances in good movies. She was great in the very underrated American Ultra last year, went toe to toe with Oscar winner Julianne Moore in Still Alice, and here again, she does a very fine job.
Without the very nuanced and believable performances from Hoult and Stewart, Equals might have just felt like a long, boring, sleek commercial for some “wave of the future” type product that we don’t totally understand what its purpose is, or if we can afford it, because it looks expensive. They both really sell the idea of falling in love in a society that simply doesn’t allow for that kind of thing, and it is interesting, relatable and at times, heartbreaking. Quite simply, it is a very effective indie romance wrapped in a fairly stylish sci-fi setting. Almost in spite of itself, the movie kind of just works.
I don’t know if I can say that you need to rush to a theater near you to go see Equals, but I can say that as a quiet, sci-fi romance, it is effective. A24 is developing a really good track record of putting out quality, but somewhat out of the box independent movies, and Equals fits the bill. When it inevitably hits a streaming service near you, it would probably be worth your time to check it out if you are in the mood to feel some feelings, or look at something aesthetically pleasing. Or, if you just want to head to a theater and check out something very much outside of the standard summer movie, that is also a good enough reason to check it out. Equals hits theaters on July 15.