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Film Review: Captive State

Title: Captive State

Director(s): Rupert Wyatt

Screenwriter(s): Erica Beeney & Rupert Wyatt

Studio: Participant Media, Lightfuse & Gettaway

Released: 2019

Runtime: 1h 49m

Starring: John Goodman, Ashton Sanders, Jonathan Majors, Vera Farmiga

Captive State

The opening crawl in the form of a series of electronic messages introduces the premise. An alien invasion had taken place in 2019. The US military was the first to surrender and demobilize. The rest of the world followed. These aliens are referred to as “Legislators” and in each city is a “Closed Zone”, a deep underground habitat in which some of them live. Humans were “conscripted” to build these bases.

Humans are used to serve Legislators in other ways too such as accessing natural resources, government administration and law enforcement. The divide between rich and poor grows. Some offenders are shipped off-world.

It is hardly original but it is intriguing enough, especially given the current state of the world. Most of this is told rather than shown which is understandable but is a little crude.

The film is set in Chicago, nine years after the invasion. Although it is not New York and the city doesn’t get wiped off the map, Chicago is still an interesting choice…

Anyway, the plot begins with a young man named Gabe Drummond (Ashton Sanders) whose older brother Rafe (Jonathan Majors) is considered a martyr for the human resistance after a failed bombing a few years earlier. Also interesting is that we have a mural of an African-American man on walls but that is perhaps beside the point. Gabe wishes to escape the circumstances he lives in but he, unlike his older brother, wishes to keep his head down.

Gabe Drummond (Ashton Sanders)
Gabe Drummond (Ashton Sanders)

Meanwhile, a cop of the special branch (John Goodman) is trying to track down the resistance network, convinced that something big is about to go down. About thirty minutes into the film, the narrative shifts to follow the resistance’s effort to execute a major attack. It then later converges back to Gabe and Goodman’s character for the final act.

Special Branch Commander (John Goodman)
Special Branch Commander (John Goodman)

This overall structure is somewhat clumsy but it is understandable in that it tries to be different. Despite that, within each scene and on a scene-by-scene basis, the progression is handled well. It hits its beats, provides exposition and signposts, and then moves on. After the opening act, the narrative manages to maintain tension almost all the way to the end.

As already mentioned, the premise is initially told rather than shown but some aspects of the occupied world are shown throughout. Almost everyone has an alien implant for surveillance purposes, whatever communications are allowed is monitored, there are constant swarms of aerial drones, people’s movements are restricted, law enforcement cracks down hard on the population, and worshipping and praying at churches are banned. The themes are moderately interesting but not subtle. More can be done in this regard.

Visually, it tries to be gritty although the film editing can be better in a few instances. Both the visuals and the premise presumably take some inspiration from the works of Neill Blomkamp.

Worthy of mentioning is that the Legislators are not often seen although signs are them are almost everywhere. Only selected humans are permitted to go underground for in-person meetings. This restrained approach, without going as far as Gareth Edwards’s Monsters (2010), gives the film a sense of mystery.

Also interesting is that the Legislators cannot tolerate our atmosphere and germs which is not a new idea but their spiky suit makes them look vaguely like viruses.

This is a barely veiled film that crudely describes how the world is. Goodman’s screen presence and performance are solid as expected and that is one of the reasons why it works. Although the script can use more refinement, the film maintains the tension, at least for those who are in the mood for this genre. As already mentioned, the themes are moderately interesting but not subtle, a description that can be applied to the whole work.


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