Captive State | Rupert Wyatt | March 15, 2019
Captive State shows an alien takeover that avoids more of the more usual expected invasion tropes mainly due to budgetary restrictions. Instead, director Rupert Wyatt frames it all through the lens of a dark tinted political thriller that feels more like an espionage movie than a sci-fi alien film. What ends up happening is that Wyatt, who co-wrote the screenplay with wife and Battle of Shaker Heights scribe Erica Beeney, leaves us with a movie that feels like it’s stuck somewhere between the two, leading us down a dark and chilly journey that I constantly felt an arm’s length away from.
It starts off well enough with a sharp to-the-point explanation of what went down. Aliens arrive and overwhelm humankind as we know it. The opening sequence of our two young protagonists watching their parents die in horrific fashion sets the tone. Text on a computer fills in the rest for us: the world surrenders to these overwhelming powers and is forced to form a peace treaty, making this alien race the new true leaders of the not-so-free world. Of course, some of the big political figures benefit from this and there is a further divide between the richest people and the poorest (sound familiar?).
This leads the way towards a rebellion, once led by Rafe Drummond (Jonathan Majors), the older brother from the opening sequence. He tried to take down the aliens to put an end to this unnatural union between the aliens and mankind and paid the price. But the rebellion still exists, and detectives such as William Mulligan (10 Cloverfield Lane‘s John Goodman) are trying to figure out who is currently running the show. His eye turns to Rafe’s brother Gabriel (Moonlight‘s Ashton Sanders), who suddenly finds himself pulled in the direction of the rebellion, whether he likes it or not.
And from there, it all falls apart. We are shown various forces within the rebellion, plotting against the aliens and political higher-ups, but outside of Rafe and William, we don’t find many characters that resonate or help us engage with this convoluted script. We watch as various mysterious figures within the insurgent forces come together and plan their big attack, but we watch idly, trying to figure out what the hell is actually taking place on-screen and, more importantly, why should we care. During a supposed big climactic action sequence, it’s all so hurried and disjointed, it came off as comical instead of thrilling and emotional.
To give credit to Wyatt, he makes the most of what is clearly a limited budget, and stylistically captures the murky mood that is clearly desired. Only this cold detached captive state is ultimately what makes you feel detached from the film, never fully engaging you. It was perplexing that we spent a good 30 minutes during the heart of the film where we literally don’t hear from our main character Gabriel for nearly 30 minutes.
Sanders and Goodman do make the most of their roles, elevated far above the muddled waters of the screenplay. They make use of every scene they’re in, even if they’re not given much to work with. It is a shame to see such an actor as Vera Farmiga in the cast and be completely wasted in a thankless role.
There are some big reveals and resolved connective threads during the film’s final minutes, but it all feels forced, cheap, and way too neat. If Wyatt had honed in on focusing on the core characters, it would have landed to its desired effect, but it only made a frustrating experience that much more so and ended up confirming my belief that this was basically a lower budget version of a film such as Arrival. It seems that Captive State would have been better off as a mini-series or show that would have given Wyatt and the team time to properly establish both this world and its characters.