Blu-ray Review: Equals

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Equals is a dystopian future-based sci-fi film now available on Blu-ray (and DVD) from Lionsgate. With a highly derivative story that draws from Brave New World, 1984, and countless other stories set an emotionless, totalitarian state, the lead performances wind up being the primary draw. Kristen Stewart, one of the finest actresses around (who inexplicably continues to be raked for her work in the Twilight franchise, which was underrated in the first place), plays Nia. Nicholas Hoult (Beast in the three most-recent X-Men films) plays Nia's co-worker Silas. While neither Stewart or Hoult delivers peak-level work (not their fault—the story calls for flatness), their carefully modulated performances provide the foundation for this intentionally sterile, stilted romance.

In director Drake Doremus' future vision, emotions have been genetically omitted from every individual's personality. Everyone works and interacts with the same even-tempered blandness. There are no relationships. Conventional procreation has been replaced by artificial means of conception. The only ripple in this sea of complacency is a new "disease" called Switched On Syndrome, or SOS. In some individuals, the capacity for feelings has re-emerged. Society's 'powers that be' have convinced everyone that SOS is a fearsome condition. While acknowledged as not contagious, those who have SOS are routinely ostracized by co-workers.

It's within this locked-down world that Silas, recently having tested positive for SOS, takes an interest in Nia. Without revealing more than necessary about Nathan Parker's screenplay (director Doremus is credited with the story), an intense—and intensely forbidden—relationship develops between Silas and Nia. In Equals, people with the capacity to feel emotions are "defects." Suicide is rampant (and graphically depicted), while SOS is supposedly "treatable" via pharmaceuticals. As Silas comes to terms with his diagnosis, he meets another "infected" individual, Jonas (Guy Pearce), who offers the possibility of a different path.

Aside from the lead performances (and Pearce's sly supporting turn), the production design is of key interest. Equals presents a future that, though not particularly original (nothing about the film is), feels believably sterile. But sleek, cool visual beauty can't keep Equals from wearing out its welcome over the course of an hour and 40 minutes. The third act packs in a few surprising turns though, so if you're a fan of either Hoult or Stewart (or both), it might be worth a spin. 

rsz_equals_bd.jpg Lionsgate's Blu-ray is just acceptable in terms of what we've come to expect from high def visuals. Though possibly inherent in frequent Drake Doremus-collaborator John Guleserian's cinematography, some shots (particularly low-light ones) lack depth. While the nearly all-white set design might've provided some lighting challenges, the darker scenes have an unbecoming grayish look instead of deep black levels. It's certainly not enough of an issue to be a problem, it's just not the prettiest transfer. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless track is fine, but with such a quiet movie the only notable element is Sascha Ring and Dustin O'Halloran's electronic score. Be prepared to turn up the dialogue, then turn down the swelling pulse of electro-bass.

Audio commentary by director Doremus, cinematographer Guleserian, and film editor Jonathan Alberts is the main supplement. For those without the time to invest in a feature-length commentary, turn to the surprisingly enlightening featurettes. The short (eight minutes) "Switched On" is typical promo fluff, but "The Collective" (13 minutes) and especially "Utopia" (30 minutes) are in-depth and worthwhile for Equals fans.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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