Someone tweeted once that they now go to Sundance to see who is going to direct next summer’s blockbuster and while he may have been musing for comical effect, he isn’t wrong. Indie directors are taking over Hollywood. Directors, who only had a few quid to make their debuts, are now being given millions to helm some of the biggest films of the year. Yet not everyone is so keen on jumping so quickly up the career ladder. One such director is Drake Doremus. With two indies already under his belt, the brilliant Like Crazy and the so-so Breathe In, the on-trend move would have been big budget but Doremus’ third outing, Equals, takes the director in a far more interesting direction.
Set in a utopian society known as The Collective, humanity’s ability to feel emotion has been eradicated and survivors of an undetermined global collapse live in a quasi-peaceful, egalitarian state, where their sole purpose is to work and wear impressively white clothes. Two members of this society, Nia (Kristen Stewart) and Silas (Nicholas Hoult), are co-workers at a digital publishing company who soon find themselves sufferers of SOS (Switched on Syndrome), aka love. As they begin to exercise their feelings, their lives are endangered by a society that deems their affections a disease and a possible cure for their feelings.While the film’s backdrop isn’t necessarily wholly original, it shares a similar vision of the future as 1984 and The Island, Doremus perfectly blends thematic traits of his previous films with a welcomed new aesthetic. His previous efforts dealt with a world that was dripping in affection yet, by creating a world so absent of it, Doremus has constructed an allegory of love that’s so entirely accurate, it’s slightly unnerving. It’s a unique and unorthodox view of falling in love, people discuss it like a cancer, but it’s an idea so ripe for exploration.
In less skillful hands this could have become a YA-wannabe, yet Doremus is so skillful in the way he handles the subject matter it never feels cringey or kitsch. Instead love is dealt with in such a serious and mature manner it transcends the genre it may appear to be replicating. This success can be shared with the leads, Stewart and Hoult. The casting of Stewart on the surface may seem ironic, a figure the media deem as emotionless playing an emotionless figure, get the joke? But the actress has an unrivalled ability to illustrate a wealth of emotions with a simple facial expression, a talent that is perfectly utilised in an early, key scene, which quickly shifts her casting from ironic to masterful.Hoult, an actor who has struggled to find his leading man niche, shines as the SOS suffering Silas. There’s one heartbreaking moment where Silas touches his own hand to attempt to get the sense of physical contact, it’s a quiet, brief moment but deeply effective thanks to the actor’s nuanced performance that plays perfectly into the film’s subtle tone.
Sometimes, the film’s premise is overstretched causing unfortunate holes to appear in the film’s logic. Jacki Weaver’s Bess, a secret sufferer of SOS, talks about a time before the disease which makes you wonder how this, sometimes unbelievable, society has managed to exist for so long without resistance. As well, Doremus regular Guy Pierce is sadly under-utilised, left feeling like he is just there as a favour. Yet, thinking about this too much ignores the interesting questions the director poses.
Doremus has crafted a slight masterpiece that concentrates more on mood than drama and thanks to precise touches the director manages to tell an affecting and human story in a sterile environment. Just don’t expect him to helm the next Marvel film.
EQUALS is available now on digital HD and is out on VOD & DVD on October 3rd