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Movie Review: "Equals" aesthetically pleasing, but leaves some to be desired

“Equals” is a 2015 science fiction-romance hybrid written and directed by Drake Doremus, and starring Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart. The film details life in a post-war, dystopian society built to maximize productivity by suppressing human emotion. It’s pretty crazy, but the premise is not unheard of.

The film is a celebration of futuristic-minimalism themes; it blurs the line between utopia nd dystopia and references films like “Her” and “The Hunger Games.” In “Equals,” this specific setting is the driving force behind the entire movie. Only five or six locations are used throughout, and the plot is mostly developed through discourse and dialogue.

The utopia in “Equals” is rooted in a radical, shiny, neo-modernist idealism that could probably convince Apple and Ikea to team up and take over the world. The set design is gorgeous, and the cinematography even more so. Every shot in the film is a tranquil desktop wallpaper, and each frame is meticulously laid out.

What I enjoy most about the setting is the novelty. At first I was in awe of the beautiful, monochromatic buildings, but it gets old very quickly. At the same time, the characters acknowledge their own personal disdain towards perfectionist society. It’s a parallel that seems well thought out.

Despite heavy dialogue, we often directly see how the characters feel and think about their world over time. The nuances of this society and our protagonists’ reactions to them are exemplified in more than just words; things are shown, and not explicitly told. In turn the plot grows fluidly with the characters and makes for great pacing.

In a lot of ways this world is similar to “Her” if Spike Jonze’s timeline kept rampantly thriving into the future. Human relationships are collateral damage from this society, and the definition of intimacy is warped to unbelievable lengths. The color palette is similar, too, though contrast is used more symbolically in “Equals” to break up the all-white-everything aesthetic

However, the writing itself is nothing special. Kristen Stewart is really just playing herself at this point, and parts of the plot bear resemblance to a certain Shakespearian romance. The movie is good, but offers no rewatchability and nothing to really think about after its conclusion. Aside from the heavy penultimate scene, not much else of the movie resonated with me after I saw it.

I feel like there’s only so much you can do to keep a “dystopian world built around suppressing human qualities” original. You can have your protagonists either violently revolt or conform to the will of society. Everything in between doesn’t offer much motivation for your characters to act upon. Whatever the case, it wouldn’t hurt if your leads had some believable on-screen chemistry.

But I’d be remiss to call this movie a 90-minute eye candy experience. The soundtrack is absolutely amazing; a perfect blend between classical orchestra music and ambient, glitch, trip-hop to paint a spectrum of emotion in a world without any. The sound design itself is awkward, with obnoxious background noises being turned up to dialogue levels at times, but it’s easy to forgive by the next scene.

“Equals” is worth your time, and perhaps your money if you are a fan of the movie theater experience. The gorgeous images and sounds of a sick, twisted world will keep you invested during its duration, though it doesn’t really offer much to contemplate after the credits roll. Personally I’m growing tired of the self-celebratory motif of love in cinema — yet I still enjoyed this movie enough to recommend.

“Equals” is playing at the SUB Theater through Sunday as part of the ASUNM Southwest Film Center’s schedule of films this semester. Showtimes and prices are available at http://swfc.unm.edu/.

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