Movie review: Nicholas Hoult, Kristen Stewart in replay of Romeo And Juliet set partly in Singapore

Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult in Equals.
Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult in Equals. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult have to hide their romance in a dystopian future where emotion is seen as a disease

REVIEW / SCIENCE-FICTION DRAMA

EQUALS (NC16)

102 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3 stars

The Story: In the future, emotions have been genetically engineered out of humans for the sake of social harmony. In this egalitarian utopia, those who show emotions are shunned and shamed and treated with medicine. A disease makes Silas (Nicholas Hoult) exhibit affection for co-worker Nia (Kristen Stewart), placing him in a terrible dilemma.

Go into this movie and, like this reviewer, you might be playing "guess the location" instead of paying attention to the story.

Hoult and Stewart showed up in Singapore two years ago to film this, causing a minor frenzy at spots such as Reflections at Keppel Bay, a pricey condominium. Silas' living space was probably filmed there.

In the future, we will all live inside obsessively curated pods featuring white-on-white minimalism, our lives resembling photoshoots from Wallpaper* magazine. As movie dystopias go, this is one of the cushier ones.

The identification game will not be easy. American co-writer and director Drake Doremus cleverly blends spots from here and Tokyo.

The emotionless dystopia isn't a terrible idea; it shows up in Star Trek (in Spock's Vulcan world) and in movies such as Equilibrium (2002).

The quality of any premise is not as important as how the movie explores the idea and whether it takes the notion to its natural conclusion. In this test, Equals just passes.

But at its heart, this is a story of forbidden love and that romance is put onscreen with full-blooded intensity by Hoult and Stewart. Doremus borrows Shakespeare's Romeo And Juliet structure to an almost embarrassing degree, so much so the Bard deserves a writing credit.

The strength of the acting goes some way in fixing major weaknesses with the plot's thriller elements, when the two protagonists predictably have to go rogue.

In a series of contrived set-ups, they are helped by other dissidents, played by Australian actors Jacki Weaver and Guy Pearce.

Pearce and Weaver, along with the two young stars, have a tricky job playing characters that have to emote without showing that they know how to, and yet they manage to do it without doing a robot caricature, in the style of Arnie the Terminator trying to be human.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2016, with the headline 'Going rogue over forbidden love'. Print Edition | Subscribe