It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The first thing you need to know about "Equals" is that it's set in a world depopulated by war, where the open display of emotion is forbidden and romantic love is a crime. Your reaction to that summary will probably determine whether you can give yourself over to this film—well, that or your interest in Kristen Stewart, who plays one half of a couple that falls in love anyway, damn the consequences.
Stewart had a rough go of things early on in her career, making a lot of money starring in the "Twilight" films but also being slammed as an unconvincing actress who came across as wooden when called upon to project big, melodramatic feelings. With a bit of distance from that series, we can see that Stewart was doing heroic work in a part that didn't naturally suit her. She's a very subtle actress who excels at roles that keep the audience at some remove, suggesting a character's interior state with measured gestures and expressions. Michelangelo Antonioni would have known how to use her, and there are many moments when the director of this movie, Drake Doremus—a specialist in romantic melodramas—displays an uncanny understanding of what she can bring to a film.
Stewart plays Nia, a writer who works at a company that extols the virtues of space exploration in a post-apocalyptic society. She falls in love with the film's main character, Silas (Nicholas Hoult), an illustrator who becomes smitten with her almost immediately but can't do anything about it because she doesn't want to be oppressed and then ultimately put to death. Anyone who shows emotion is diagnosed with "S.O.S." (an acronym for Switched-On Syndrome) and medicated with lobotomizing drugs until the feelings go away. If the feelings don't go away, the smitten person gets shipped to a "Den" where they're encouraged to waste away or kill themselves.
The world of "Equals" recalls the history of the planet Vulcan as presented in the "Star Trek" universe. The Vulcans were a passionate, violent people that nearly wiped themselves out through war, then reconfigured their society to suppress emotions. The film's opening section reveals that Nia and Silas' world lost most of its population and livable land to war. The remnants have cordoned themselves off from the more unruly humans who live in the ruins of a nearby city. They're all so cool that they sound heavily medicated when they speak. They're a society of snitches, instantly reporting any anomalous behavior to authorities.