Why must the future always be such a drag? If not nuclear apocalypse, it seems we fear civilisation becoming a right wing nut jobs paranoid nightmare, full of supressed emotion, mindless collectivism and a penchant for blandly uniform clothing. Drake Doremus does nothing to dispel this image in Equals, moving his usually rich brand of heartache into the future where Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart overcome genetic programming to fall in love in a dull and unoriginal romance.

In this future, one that looks distinctly like it’s designed by Apple, everything is sleek and shiny, people live in flat pack apartments, and no one forms meaningful relationships with each other. To do so is prohibited, but most have no desire anyway. This new breed of human can’t feel a thing, at least not emotionally, allowing them to focus on work and presumably avoid the kind of distractions that destroyed everything last time around.

The problem comes with the failure of whatever scientific trick was employed to block out emotions. It seems a growing number are suffering from Switched On Syndrome, or SOS (yes, they really go with those initials), a disease that sees emotions switch back on. There is no cure, just a managed decline ending in suicide or state sanctioned murder. Hoult’s Silas, an illustrator at some kind of historical reconstruction company, is the latest to fall prey, leaving him shaky and uncertain for the first time. Now able to feel, he finds himself attracted to Stewart’s Nia, a fellow employee who seems to reciprocate.

It’s all very teen dystopian science fiction, both in the barely fleshed out world and the horribly yearning romance. They are like kids suddenly hitting puberty. Simply touching hands seems to send lustful sparks flying off in all directions. Naturally, an obstacle is needed, and Doremus duly provides in the shape of a suddenly discovered cure that will reset them permanently. Determined to save their love, aided via cameos from a wasted Guy Pearce and Jacki Weaver, they concoct a plan that can’t save waning interest levels.

Doremus walked a fine line between histrionic romance and nuanced relationship in previous films, mostly coming down the right side of the line. Here he oversteps completely. It’s so simplistic, not helped by the boilerplate dystopia they live in. Thinly sketched yearning and a derivative setting do not make for good times. The problem with a dull world in which everyone packs their lives away in a living space made only of fold-out cabinets is that it’s dull. Forget love, boredom is the emotion no one seems able to eradicate.

Director: Drake Doremus
Writer: Nathan Parker
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Nicholas Hoult, Guy Pearce
Runtime: 101 min
Country: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆

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