Movies about the future tend to envision the world in one of two ways: as the feral, scorched-earth wasteland of some post–nuclear/ zombie/giant-lizard apocalypse; or as a sleek, chilly utopia ruled by soulless technocrats and paranoia. (Though there are exceptions, of course, like Spike Jonze’s lovely, quirky Her.)
Equals falls firmly in the sleek-and-soulless camp: In this unnamed, undated tomorrowland, citizens live and work collectively, automatons shuttled between airy dormlike apartments and sterile offices with stopwatch precision. Sex is forbidden; conception is immaculate and by appointment only—and romantic love, like other pesky emotions, has been excised in utero. But when Silas (Nicholas Hoult) begins to exhibit strange symptoms—nightmares, runny noses, a newfound fixation on his co-worker Nia (Kristen Stewart)—he is diagnosed with Switched On Syndrome, which is essentially just his innate, illegal humanness breaking through.
Director Drake Doremus carefully constructs an us-against-the-world romance for Silas and Nia (an idea he pulled off beautifully in the underrated 2011 drama Like Crazy, starring Felicity Jones and the late Anton Yelchin) and provides them with a rogue band of fellow thought rebels, including Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver. His vision is gorgeously styled and impeccably shot, but the movie rarely transcends symbolism; it feels less like a fully formed story than a genetically engineered hybrid of Gattaca and a feature-length fragrance ad (Detachment, by Calvin Klein). If this is what the future holds, bring on the giant lizards. B–