Hard, white surfaces shimmer like hot concrete in 90 degree heat. Streams of workers funnel, instinctively, into emotionless lines, like ant colonies to a melted popsicle stick. In director Drake Doremus’ “Equals”, humanity has turned into logical, operational, and empathy-free entities that click together like Lego blocks. Every person has a function. Anyone with the capacity for regret, existentialism, or love is counterproductive to society. Affection is like the norovirus, and is to be treated as such. Doremus uses a lack of color as motif: all individuals with purpose are dressed in white, head to toe, to signify both unity and social cohesion – we are one (yawn). This future is clinical, void of color, and muffled from noise. It’s something you would expect to see in a 1950s science-fiction movie, or a Twilight Zone teleplay.
This highly logical world, where people work in a “Metropolis”-like assembly of parts, is occasionally disrupted by people with feelings. These people are diagnosed with something that is called “Switched On Syndrome”, a name that sounds like a System of a Down album title. Those inflicted with S.O.S. are seen as hindrances to the functionality of Doremus’ boring society. When two characters in this soap dish of a universe – Silas (Nicholas Hoult) and Nia (Kristen Stewart) – become enamored with one another, the axis of this civilization break down like IKEA furniture, and celebrated character actor Guy Pearce must do his best tense pacing. Meanwhile, we are privy to endless closeups of Stewart’s lips and Hoult’s eyes.
At its heart, “Equals” aspires to be a moving piece of sci-fi literature, in the style of Kazuo Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go”, but instead toils in its own self-involved minutia. Earlier this year, director Benjamin Dickinson released “Creative Control“, a movie whose stylistic compass – muted grays, lobotomized whites, soft blues – created a similar science-fiction aesthetic. Both movies looked derivative of Christopher Nolan’s “Following”, with their placid tones and sad, overtly indulgent narratives. Here, Doremus shoots drama through Hal Hartley filters and tired “Minority Report” visual nods. And, sonically, he uses a score that sounds like an Explosions in the Sky cover band.
The theme of “Equals” – society is trying to keep us from experiencing true love, man – is basically a lyric sheet from a Dashboard Confessional song. Doremus isn’t a bad director (the perceptive and touching “Douchebag” is phenomenal), but his latest offering is an atonal mess of tired tropes that not only asks us to suspend our disbelief but our patience as well. Opening at Digital Gym Cinema, “Equals” can be missed without much pause.